Thursday, September 20, 2018

Oklahoma Governor- Race of the Day

47 Days Until Election Day

Oklahoma Governor

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Will a party label itself be enough to win? That will be put to the test this year in Oklahoma, perhaps to the largest extent this year. After decades of Democrat dominate, the Sooner State is now reliably Republican, and that might be enough to keep the party in power, despite a match between two candidates that sort of resembles a mismatch on paper and a term-limited incumbent that might be the most unpopular office-holder in America.

Oklahoma is one of the states that saw some seesawing between parties every eight years for the Governorship. In 2010, Congresswoman Mary Fallin won the office fairly easily and then defended it four years later, albeit by a diminishing margin against a vastly outspent opponent. Now, for whatever reason, she seems to be incredibly unpopular. One recent survey showed she was the most disapproved Governor in America, with only an abysmal 19 percent liking the job she is doing. That is going to make it pretty hard for any Republican to ask to continue her agenda, and theoretically, it would now be the time when it makes sense that the other party may be elected to have a term. Fallin interviewed for a Cabinet position in the Trump Administration but was not selected. Had she been, somebody else would be Governor right now, and (assuming that person was nominated), it might be slightly easier sailing for the GOP.

A plethora of Republican candidates entered the contest. That all but guaranteed that the race would not be decided in a June primary, but a full two months later after an August runoff. The front-runner was perceived to be Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, whom of course would have become Governor had Fallin left the state for another job. For a time ,he held a second post in the Governor's Cabinet, but wound up resigning from that. Another statewide elected official who ran was  the low-key State Auditor Gary Jones. Also amid the 10 candidate field was former State Representative Dan Fisher, who was perhaps more importantly a Baptist minister, and Mick Cornett, the former Mayor of Oklahoma City, who had served for 14 years until earlier this year. He had once lost a Congressional GOP runoff to Fallin, but entered the race for Governor with strong business support and was considered the most moderate of the contenders.

At first, not many gave much thought to first time candidate, Kevin Stitt, a 45 year old Tulsa mortgage company executive. Using his personal wealth, Stitt, similar to the strategy of Donald Trump portrayed himself as a non-political outsider. He also had significant support from social conservatives. Many expected though that the runoff would wind up between Cornett and Lamb. Nonetheless, the  first-place finisher was the late surging Stitt who won 29 percent of the vote. Also advancing was Cornett, who edged out Lamb by about 2,500 votes, as much of the support Lamb was hoping on wound up going for Stitt. (Donald Trump Jr. even did a fundraiser for the Lt. Governor.) Fisher received only eight percent and Jones just six. The remaining 10 percent or so of the GOP vote was split by the back of the pack, which included former U.S. Attorney Gary Richardson, who had long been around the state's politics, including when he received 14 percent as an Independent candidate in the 2002 general election for Governor.

Some in the party tried to coalesce around Cornett for the runoff, but in spite of all his success bringing the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA franchise to the city, found he could not quite keep up with Stitt's checkbook and the more conservative outsider choice won the runoff by about 10 points.

By this time, Democrats already had two months peace on their side with their nominee unchallenged. After a third contender dropped out, the contest came down to a two person race and was with 61 percent by former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. Before being elected to four terms as Attorney General, in a state that now has term limits, Edmondson had come up short on a couple of attempts to win a Congressional seat once held by his father. With his statewide electoral appeal proven, he ran for Governor in 2010 but very narrowly lost his party's nomination to the state's female Lt. Governor.

This time, the 71 year old Edmondson had less difficulty beating Connie Johnson, a former State Senator, whom in 2014 became the first African-American woman ever nominated for statewide office ,as well as the first female U.S. Senate nominee in the state, before losing the race in a landslide. Johnson was well to the left of Edmondson and has been described in some profiles as a Democratic Socialist.

It seems pretty clear that in a state with a pretty shallow Democrat bench, the party managed to pick their best possible nominee. Time will tell if Republicans have picked someone to whom that does not apply. A statewide race in Oklahoma should theoretically not even be close, but this one is. It would not be anything close to a complete shocker if Edmondson actually wins this one.

Still though, Oklahoma is a very red state and the D label alone may put a ceiling on their nominee's total support. Well before Stitt won the GOP nomination, the "Sooner Poll" had him trailing his eventual general election opponent by seven points. During the run-off this summer, the margin was only one point. Most recently, the same poll now shows the Republican nominee ahead of Edmondson by three points, as the number of undecided voters continues to shrink.

It may take some time for the backers of the other Republican candidates to fully embrace Stitt, and he may need to keep Governor Fallin at arm's length, but the GOP nominee has to be considered at least a moderate favorite at this point. This is probably not going to be a race that gets called the second the polls close though.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

12 D  (2 Safe, 2 Likely,  5 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
14 R   (2 Safe, 5 Likely, 5 Leans, 2 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

19 D (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 2 Likely, 5 Leans, 3 Tossup)
21 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 5 Likely, 5 Leans, 2 Tossup)


At 4:39 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

There's a good chance Edmondson could pull off an upset.


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