Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.
Finally. It’s election week. This is one of those few elections in recent years in Oklahoma when things seem too close to call. Usually the statewide campaigns with money to spare have a good idea of where they are because they are polling pretty much up to the election. This year even the candidates or those close to them (except in secondary, non-competitive races) don’t seem to have much certainty. The consensus seems to be that the races are close enough that the candidates who can get their voters to the polls will be the winners. It’s about turnout. Polls with margins fairly near the margin of error are not sure predictors when the enthusiasm on one side or the other runs high.
In the governor’s race there’s reason for hope on both sides. On the Democratic side Edmondson is a strong candidate with a pro-education and health care message that has energized most Democrats. Dissatisfaction with the status quo — owned by the Republicans — is almost always a theme in Oklahoma elections, but it’s especially high this year with our crisis in education and our lagging numbers in health care. Most Republican operatives, on the other hand, feel political gravity will take hold causing even dissatisfied Republicans to return home and carry Kevin Stitt over the finish line. And Republicans consistently vote in higher numbers in the mid-term elections.
Next year’s legislative membership is even less predictable. A dozen losses by Republican incumbents in the primaries weakened Democratic hopes for large legislative gains. The legislators who lost were out of step to the right of their own party and would have been easier marks for Democratic flips. But there are still plenty of close races, and no one can really know the results of the hard feelings left over in those tough primaries. Those races may revert to, believe it or not, which party has the strongest and hardest working candidate.
Naturally, the best opportunities for party flips are in districts where a Democrat holds a heavily Republican seat or vice versa. Democrats are vulnerable in a couple seats like this because of special election wins which could blunt gains elsewhere. Republicans have been able to use their majority status and leadership positions to raise more money to help their candidates withstand the negative feelings about incumbency. As with the governor’s race, the result in each of these legislative races will in the end be determined by enthusiasm. Will the disaffected “remember in November” or will political gravity hold?