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Reclusive, perennial Oklahoma candidate faces longtime state senator in U.S. Senate primary

by Graham Lee Brewer Modified: July 3, 2014 at 8:25 pm •  Published: July 3, 2014

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U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rogers campaigns June 26 on a street corner in Midwest City. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
  Jim Beckel -
U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rogers campaigns June 26 on a street corner in Midwest City. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Jim Beckel -

Standing on a busy street corner in Midwest City, Jim Rogers, waves to passing cars as he fights to hold on to two large handmade campaign signs in the Oklahoma wind.

The signs Rogers holds are white poster board scrawled with various political messages written in black permanent marker. Emblazoned in white letters on his bright red sweater, its shoulders beaten by the sun, are the words “Oklahoma Jim Rogers U.S. Senate 2004.”

“I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and on the street by 5 o’clock, and I campaign at restaurant centers and on the corner and wherever I can find a crowd gathering or leaving,” Rogers said. “I stay with it all day.”

Rogers, 79, faces state Sen. Constance Johnson in a runoff election Aug. 26 for the Democratic nomination in a U.S. Senate race that is garnering national attention. The winner will face U.S. Rep. James Lankford for the seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn.

The occasional passing car will honk, and rarely, someone walking past will stop and talk for a moment before moving on, said Mark, a taxi driver who asked that his last name not be used. He drives the yellow taxi that takes Rogers from corner to corner to campaign, as he puts it.

Mark said Rogers pays him about $30 an hour to wait in his car as he waves to what he hopes will be his future constituents.

Rogers has run for office in Oklahoma for more than a decade, getting tens of thousands of votes as a candidate for not only the U.S. Senate, but also lieutenant governor and president. In 2010, he beat Democratic challenger Mark Myles in the primary, eventually losing to Coburn.

A past educator

Rogers, who has proven elusive over the years, prefers to do his interviews in person, refuses to be videotaped, and is often guarded when asked personal questions. Rogers told The Oklahoman in 2010 he was a professor, but refused to say where he had taught. His secrecy has fueled speculation about his past.

“I heard the story — a dying rich man — about me. Scratch out the rich and scratch out the dying, and you probably have it right,” Rogers said. “This year it was the severe handicap thing. Well, I may be severe handicap, but I’m almost 80. What do you expect me to be?”

A spokeswoman for the University of Wyoming confirmed Rogers received a master’s degree in physics in 1973. He received an additional graduate degree in curriculum instruction the following year. Rogers said he taught at several colleges, including Seminole State College, Connors State College and Langston University. Spokeswomen at all three schools confirmed he had taught there.

Rogers said he left teaching decades ago and now relies on income from oil and gas rights to survive and to fund his various campaigns.

Rogers said if elected he would work to keep money and jobs in the U.S. His focus is economic and debt-related issues. He said he would put more emphasis on helping smaller businesses and lower-income workers.

“I’m sorry, if they’re living today and in politics, I don’t think they’re making a great enough effort to start at the bottom,” Rogers said. “We’ve always had this trickle down. How about bubble up? Let’s have some bubble up, from the bottom, grassroots level, so the guy down at the bottom, he gets his first for awhile.”

Candidates like Rogers serve a valuable purpose, said Keith Gaddie, chairman of the University of Oklahoma political science department. They make sure no one in their district wins an election without facing an opponent.

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