The Oklahoma Senate: A Symmetrical Showdown

As of now, the Oklahoma Senate has 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans. When the Tulsa World polled Oklahomans on which party they wanted in charge of the ...
by | September 9, 2008

As of now, the Oklahoma Senate has 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans. When the Tulsa World polled Oklahomans on which party they wanted in charge of the body, 42 percent said the Democrats and 42 percent said the Republicans. The top four races this year include the reelection bids of one Republican incumbent and one Democratic incumbent and the open-seat campaigns for one Republican-held seat and one Democratic-held seat.

Suffice it to say there's a lot of symmetry in this campaign -- and every reason to believe that the race for the Oklahoma Senate will go down to the wire.

That doesn't mean, however, that this is an entirely even fight. Republicans in Oklahoma feel confident because they have two great opportunities to win a 25th seat.

Perhaps the best is the open-seat race for the 21st District in Stillwater. The Republican candidate is Jim Halligan, who is a former president of Oklahoma State University.

Democrats are pinning their hopes on Bob Murphy a former district judge. Murphy raised eyebrows when he reapplied for his old judgeship a month after giving it up for the Senate campaign. He didn't get his old job back, so he's sticking in the race.

The other Republican target is in the Tulsa-based 37th District, where incumbent Nancy Riley is running for a third term, but her first as a Democrat. Riley's party switch in 2006 is what prevented Republicans from winning the majority that year. The district has a Republican registration edge, which is fueling the G.O.P.'s optimism.

Democrats do have two good pickup opportunities of their own. They're focusing on Republican incumbent Don Barrington in the Democratic-leaning 31st district, which is based in Lawton, Oklahoma in the southwestern part of the state. They're also aiming at the 27th district, which includes the Oklahoma Panhandle, which in federal elections is one of the most Republican places in the country.

Democrats think they have a chance in the 27th, though, because their nominee is Bowdy Peach, a small business owner and longtime professional bull rider. "If we went to the lab to build a candidate, we couldn't have come out better," says Ward Curtin, executive director of the Oklahoma State Senate Democrats. "During his career, he broke both sides of his jaw and was back on the bull the next week. We think he can handle the games in the legislature."

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry, who carried 74 of Oklahoma's 77 counties in his 2006 reelection bid, should give his party a boost on the campaign trail. But, John McCain is favored to win Oklahoma easily, meaning any presidential coattails likely will benefit Republicans.

Oklahoma is also one the few states in the country where recent voter registration trends have favored Republicans. "The Democrats are playing for a tie," says Randy Swanson, executive director of the Oklahoma Republican Senatorial Committee. "I'd rather be us than them."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
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