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Looking At Key Races In Tuesday’s Oklahoma Midterm Elections

Brian Hardzinski

A closer-than-expected governor’s race, a neck-and-neck standoff for the state superintendent seat and several competitive state Senate seats comprise Tuesday’s general election.

Early voting began Thursday and continued through Saturday. Winners will take their seats at the start of the legislative session early next year.

University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie teamed up with Oklahoma Watch political reporter M. Scott Carter, eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley and KGOU’s Kate Carlton Greer to look at what’s on this November’s ballot.

Grab For Governor

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and challenger state Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) face off at the top of tomorrow’s ticket. Fallin has largely run on the state of Oklahoma’s economy and its low unemployment, but Dorman has highlighted what he says are Fallin’s failures in public education.

Ashley says polling shows Fallin slightly ahead, around 48-50 percent, but those numbers have remained stagnant since the beginning of the year. Dorman’s numbers are sitting in the low 40s, but they’ve been increasing.

“Gov. Fallin is not as popular today as she was a year ago,” Ashley says. “[Dorman’s] made her work for it more than she was planning.”

Gaddie says the two have campaign fundraised “dollar for dollar” in recent months, but Fallin’s expenditures are more visible and include larger staff, a campaign vehicle and frequent television ads. But Carter says the challenger has gained significant ground in the race.

Superintendent Stretch For Soccer Moms

Republican Joy Hofmeister defeated incumbent state superintendent Janet Barresiin the June 24 primary, and now she hopes to beat out Democrat John Cox to oversee kindergarten through 12th grade.

Both Cox and Hofmeister have spoken out against Common Core and high-stakes testing, but Carter says Hofmeister is fighting against a tie to the current administration.

“The Democrats are trying to say, ‘If you elect Hofmeister, it’s just Barresi Lite.’ But I think it’s hard to really make that stretch at this point,” Carter says.

Carter says it all boils down to one voting demographic: PTA mothers.

“If you’re going to win an election in Oklahoma, the one group you have to move is the Republican, female voter. That’s the one that’s in play, and that group is very much focused on education,” Carter says. “When you lose their loyalty, you’re in trouble. And I think the GOP has lost the loyalty of the republican women in education.”

Slippery Senate Seats

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold more than 75 percent of both the House and the Senate, and Gaddie says more than half of the seats have already been decided, either through uncontested elections or during the primaries. But there are some races worth watching.

In Senate District 40, which covers the northwest portion of Oklahoma City, Republican Ervin Yen and Democrat John Handy Edwards are trying to fill the seat vacated by Cliff Branan (R-Oklahoma City). Either way, the Vietnamese hopefuls will make Oklahoma history.

“Either one, whoever wins, will give us our first Asian lawmaker that we’ve ever had at the Capitol,” Greer said.

In south Oklahoma City, incumbent Republican Sen. Ralph Shortey faces a close race against challenger Democrat Michael Brooks-Jimenez. Shortey argues the biggest issue facing his district is illegal immigration, but Brooks-Jimenez, an immigration lawyer, refutes that, saying public education and infrastructure matter more to voters. Ashley says Shortey should’ve started campaigning earlier.

“He was a little late launching his reelection campaign,” Ashley says. “He faces someone who is popular within that district, well known within that district, and because of some of the issues, such as immigration, may be more palatable to some members of that community.”

Finally, Sen. Josh Brecheen fights to keep his seat in Senate District 6, which covers the Choctaw Nation. His opponent, Joe B. Hill, is the only Democrat to be endorsed by the State Chamber. Carter says Brecheen also started his campaign late this year, and he’s facing a very dedicated challenger.

“Joe Hill has been on the ground since day one,” Carter says. “Brecheen is not going to outwork him, not at all. Hill’s probably walked all of Southeastern Oklahoma.”


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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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