LAST week’s candidate filing period reinforced, once again, how the mighty have fallen. The Democratic Party once dominated Oklahoma. Only a few years ago, Democrats still held many statewide offices. Today, the party struggles to even field credible candidates in many major races.
Because no Democrat filed, incumbent Republicans were re-elected upon filing for the offices of state auditor, attorney general and state treasurer. Statewide races for insurance commissioner and corporation commission will be decided in Republican primaries; no Democrats sought those jobs. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa and a tea party favorite, has attracted controversy during his first term in office but was re-elected without opposition this month. No Democrat filed.
Democrats did field legitimate candidates in some races, although these individuals remain clear underdogs. The party’s candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Coburn, and the open 5th Congressional District include Democrats who’ve run successful campaigns for state legislative seats. But in many other races, the Democratic Party will be represented by little-known individuals or “perennial” candidates.
In the Legislature, the Democratic Party has shifted from outright control of both chambers in 2004 to being a distinct minority today. In the Senate, Democrats hold just 12 of 48 seats. One of those seats has already flipped to Republicans: No Democrat filed to replace the retiring Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, the Senate minority leader.
This is the second election cycle in a row in which Republicans have made state Senate gains thanks to a lack of Democratic opposition. In 2012, only Republican candidates filed in races to replace outgoing Democratic incumbents in state Senate districts representing Shawnee and Tulsa.
These facts are a reflection of Oklahomans’ growing disenchantment with the Democratic Party, particularly in the age of Barack Obama. But they may also indicate that some people who are more philosophically aligned with the Democratic Party are now simply running as Republicans.
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