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Oklahoma voters signal comfort with GOP candidates up and down ballot

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Whitney Bryen
/
Oklahoma Watch
Residents of Weatherford voted at Life Fellowship Church on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022

Almost 70% of the 481,000 voters who chose straight-party voting in Tuesday’s election voted Republican.

Oklahoma Republicans touted the possibility of a “red wave” at the polls before Tuesday’s general election, but as the final results rolled in, the party’s registration advantage in rural areas and straight-party voting helped the GOP maintain its grip on state government.

That red wave was more a warm, red bath, with many Oklahoma voters seemingly content with the message of most Republican candidates and their records in office.

Almost 70% of the 481,000 voters who chose straight-party voting in Tuesday’s election voted Republican, according to unofficial results from the Oklahoma State Election Board. Another 29% chose the Democrats, with 1% choosing Libertarian.

Gov. Kevin Stitt won re-election by 14 percentage points, brushing back Democrat Joy Hofmeister and two other challenges in a near-repeat of his maiden run for office in 2018. Republicans kept all statewide offices and picked up a seat in the state Senate. Democrats managed to gain a seat in the House, although both chambers remain in GOP supermajority status.

The state’s congressional delegation, meanwhile, remained solidly in GOP hands. Sen. James Lankford won his second full term and Markwayne Mullin won in the race for the unexpired term of Sen. Jim Inhofe, who announced his retirement last year. All five of the House members won reelection, including Rep. Stephanie Bice in a newly redrawn 5th Congressional District and Rep. Frank Lucas in the 3rd District, which now stretches into parts of central and south Oklahoma City.

Despite a scattering of public polls in the final weeks of the election showing a competitive gubernatorial race, rural voters again proved key. Hofmeister won just three of the state’s 77 counties, with wins in the populous Oklahoma, Cleveland and Tulsa counties.

Turnout was down from 2018, with just over 50% of registered voters showing up to the polls this year. That compares to 56% in 2018.

‘It’s Just Easier’

Almost 42% of voters marked a straight-party option on the ballot this year, according to the Election Board. That’s up from 40% in 2018 and 34% in 2014.

In Weatherford, a university town of about 12,000 located an hour west of Oklahoma City, many Republican voters took advantage of the state’s straight-party voting option.

David Sadler, 69, had inflation, border control and crime on his mind as he sat down at a voting station inside Life Fellowship Church just before 6 p.m Tuesday.

Before Tuesday, Sadler had never made use of the option to fill in a single box at the top of his ballot that would apply to every race. But dim lighting and polarized politics won him over this time.

“I usually don’t do that, but I don’t see real well and it was dark in there so it helped me, it made it easier,” Sadler said. “I probably would have voted for all Republicans anyway. I opposed 100% of Democratic policies. I don’t agree with any of ‘em.”

Spending was top of mind for Craig Aycock, 56, when he voted straight-party Republican.

“It’s just easier,” Aycock said. “Especially when you have as many races as we did this time.”

Larry and Louella Vaughn also voted straight-party Republican. They’ve both voted this way in the past and have voted in individual races, depending on the candidates, the couple said.

“We need to strengthen the Republican Party, and our conservative values, especially at the national level,” said 60-year-old Larry Vaughn, who sells Dodge truck parts in Weatherford. “I feel like strengthening our defense is something we need to focus on, caring for veterans and homeless and we need more regulation for medical marijuana. The only way to do that is to vote straight Republican, so that was the best option for us.”

Still, many voters don’t see the point in voting for a straight-party ticket. The Election Board said Oklahoma voters can choose the straight-party option but still override it for any particular race where they want to choose a candidate of another party.

Debra Lee, 59, who voted at Gateway Community Church in Edmond, said she has voted a straight ticket in the past but chose not to this year.

“If you want to stay ‘conservative’ then voting straight ticket is a good option,” she said. “I have other ideas.” Lee crossed parties to vote against Republican Stephanie Bice but forgot who she cast her ballot for.

That sentiment was echoed by Adrian Escobar, 22, of Warr Acres. He voted at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Warr Acres.

“I did not vote straight ticket,” Escobar said. “It's important to not throw votes blindly. Just because someone is registered in the same party as you means their morals align with yours. What they care about is not necessarily what you care about.”

Also in Warr Acres, Myranda Huddleston, 37, said she wanted to vote Stitt out of office after seeing several scandals unfold during his first term, including plans to build a new Governor’s mansion, and a contract between the Tourism Department and Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. She avoided voting down party lines during this election, she said.

“I never vote straight party,” Huddleston said. “I don’t affiliate with any specific party. I do my research and I vote for who I like.”

Election Fallout

Democrats can claim some bright spots from the general election. Democrat Vicki Behenna beat Republican Kevin Calvey in the race for Oklahoma County district attorney. All but one state Senate Democratic incumbents won re-election. The exception: J.J. Dosset, who lost his race in Tulsa. House Democrats added one member to their ranks as Suzanne Schreiber won an open seat in Tulsa County.

Still, Stitt and legislative leaders can now claim a mandate to put in place policies like tax cuts and school vouchers, which still face skepticism from some in the House and Senate worried about their rural school districts losing funding.

Internal GOP caucus politics may come into play in the next legislative session, which starts in February. Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat faces a leadership challenge from Sen. Rob Standridge of Norman.

With his second and final gubernatorial term secured, Stitt will no doubt face speculation over ambitions for higher office. Stitt brushed aside such speculation as he ran for re-election this year, but he can make the case to potential national GOP donors that he’s been tested by massive amounts of outside spending targeting him in a statewide campaign. He’s also taken on tribal leaders, many of whom endorsed Hofmeister in this year’s election, and what he likes to call “special interests” like longtime politicians and teacher’s unions that are the typical foes for many engaged Republican voters.

Reporters Lionel Ramos, Whitney Bryen and Ari Fife contributed to this story.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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