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Capitol Insider: Keith Gaddie On Incumbent Challengers And Open Seats Ahead Of Primary

Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Calvey is term-limited out of the House, and 12 Republicans are vying to replace him.
Sue Ogrocki
AP Photo
Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Calvey is term-limited out of the House, and 12 Republicans are vying to replace him.

Ahead of the June 26 primary election, KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley are joined by University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie to discuss the nearly 600 candidates running for office ahead this year in Oklahoma.

The three talk about everything from the large number of challengers to incumbents, to hotly contested open seats, to the high percentage of women seeking election in 2018.


Dick Pryor: We're joined by University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie, who's an expert on politics and elections. Welcome, Keith.

Keith Gaddie: Hey, good to be here Dick, Shawn.

Pryor: The Oklahoma primary elections are coming up on June 26. A larger than normal number of candidates filed this year. What does that tell us when you have a lot of people running?

Gaddie: They think the environment is sufficiently uncertain that they might be able to win. And a lot of people are dissatisfied with the process. They've gotten mobilized. The other thing we have to remember, though, there are a lot of open seats this year-- both in statewide elections and in the legislature. And when you have open seats, you get a lot more contestants.

Pryor: A lot more women filed this year. Thirty-two percent of the candidates are women, compared to 20 percent or less most years. Why do you think that's happening?

Gaddie: Well, you know, if you look at the political environment there have been a lot of issues to drive women to mobilize, OK? We have nationwide things like the Me Too movement. We have a lot of policy efforts in this state that women don't necessarily agree with. Oklahoma historically... We've had a female governor, a couple of female congressmen. But, by and large we have historically the lowest rates of women in the state legislature. So this is a remarkable change and part of a generational shift.

Shawn Ashley: Six Republicans in the Senate and 27 Republicans in the House who are incumbents face a primary challenge. That seems like a rather high number. Why is that?

Pryor: Well there's a lot of dissatisfaction with the behavior of the legislature. I mean, you know, we saw repeated failures in efforts to come up with a revenue deal. Many lawmakers... Many of the lawmakers who were opposed have got issue differences with their constituents on issues like education, and that invites a challenge. When you challenge an incumbent, you think that incumbent is vulnerable, you think there's the prospect of beating them. Most incumbents usually get reelected. They win renomination.

Ashley: The other side of that coin this year is that in the House there are 15 seats uncontested, but 10 of those this time belong to Democrats and only five to Republicans. And in the Senate there are four seats that are uncontested-- three belonging to Democrats and only one belonging to a Republican. That's the opposite of what we've seen in in previous years. How is that happening now?

Gaddie: Well, you know, part of it is the Democrats are finally through eating their young, right? They've re-established themselves with the baseline of representatives in both chambers and they're ready to grow. And they've got good incumbents in there, the people don't want to challenge. The Republican Party is still the major party in the state and the major party of opportunity. So you'll see more contestation in their primaries. But, you know Shawn, remember four years ago, the last gubernatorial midterm we had, the Republicans took nearly a majority of the entire legislature uncontested. And now we're in a situation where there is the prospect for incredible turnover. I mean we're looking at what something like 40 percent of the state legislature being new completely new come fall, even if every incumbent comes back. And every incumbent will not come back. There are going to be people who will lose.

Ashley: In the open seats, we're seeing a lot of candidates contest for those. In the House District 82 seat, for example, that's being vacated by State Representative Kevin Calvey, who's termed out, there are 12 Republicans vying for that seat. And we see something similar, only not as big numbers, in a lot of the other open seats. Is this just a free-for-all in those open seats?

Gaddie: Oh yeah. And you know that's... The open seats are where the action is, OK? That's your best chance to win is to run for an open seat. There's no incumbent, no incumbent advantage. And if you look at District 82 in particular, that's sort of a typical historic Republican district in the metro. So you've got a lot of people out there, relatively young and interested in being in politics in their 30s or 40s, and they're looking up and saying 'Hey, here's my chance to hop in.' I mean, it's possible in that primary to get maybe 14 or 15 percent of the vote and make the runoff. You don't have to do them much better than sweeping your friends and neighbors to be alive in that contest.

Ashley: There are 596 or so legislative candidates. I see a lot of names that I've seen before. Is there a benefit to coming back and being on the ballot again even though you lost in the past?

Gaddie: You know that's the myth. That's the myth. But running to lose to running to win later doesn't usually have that big an impact unless you've really learned something organizationally, have done a very good job of creating a network of funding, and have then reactivated it. And I can think of some examples from the state Senate... But as a general rule, you know, most people who make it in, they usually win the first time out.

Pryor: There's a lot more to talk about, and we will, later. Keith Gaddie thanks for joining us.

Gaddie: Pleasure.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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