By Nathan Altadonna, for NewsOn6.com
OKLAHOMA CITY --The race to replace term-limited Governor Brad Henry in 2010 is already heating up.
For Democrats it's the key to checking the power of a Republican-controlled legislature, and for Republicans it's the opportunity to control both the legislature and executive branches for the first time in state history.
NewsOn6.com takes a closer look and the candidates and breaks down how the race is shaping up almost a year away from the primaries.
Who Are the Major Players?
Congresswoman Mary Fallin, State Senator Randy Brogdon, and Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins are the only candidates to officially declare their plans to run for governor.
Former Congressman J.C. Watts ended weeks of speculation Friday by announcing that he would not seek the Republican nomination.
Watts and Representative Fallin were the GOP frontrunners. Most polls had Watts trailing behind Fallin, but a poll by Wilson Research Strategies released May 12 noted that Watts was gaining momentum and had him 3 points ahead of Fallin.
"It's great news for Mary Fallin," NEWS 9 Political Analyst Scott Mitchell said of Watt's decision not to run.
Senator Brogdon lagged in the polls, with most showing him with about 5 percent.
The Owasso senator has been an outspoken critic of the federal stimulus package and has said Oklahoma should have returned the more than $2 billion in stimulus funding the state received.
While Brogdon is not as well-known as Mary Fallin, his emphasis on smaller government could appeal to Oklahomans who are disenchanted by the federal economic stimulus and financial bailout plans, Political Analyst Scott Mitchell said.
Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins is the only democrat to officially enter the governor's race.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson is expected to formally announce his candidacy this summer. Edmondson has already formed a campaign committee and has raised more money than Askins or any of the Republican candidates, according to Ethics Commission records.
What's at Stake?
Control of the governor's office is coveted by both Democrats and Republicans for 2010.
After significant gains in the legislature, Republicans grabbed a majority in the State Senate in 2008 for the first time since statehood. The GOP already had a majority in the state House.
Barring any major upsets in 2010 legislative races, winning the governor's race would help Republicans push their agenda, Political Analyst Scott Mitchell said.
During the 2009 legislative session Democratic Governor Brad Henry vetoed some key pieces of Republican-sponsored legislation including school deregulation, stem-cell research ban, and voter identification.
Maintaining control of the governor's office is the Democrats' key to checking Republicans growing legislative power, Mitchell said.
What Do the Polls Say?
Democrats will face a tough challenge trying to hold onto the governor's office, according to early polling data.
Polls by Public Policy Polling and Sooner Poll, rank Mary Fallin as the strongest candidate. More voters had a favorable opinion of her than any other candidate.
In both polls, Fallin led the democratic candidates by about 10 percent.
Before serving as the fifth congressional district representative, Fallin served at lieutenant governor for 12 years.
"She just has tremendous personal appeal," NEWS 9 Political Analyst Scott Mitchell said. "She's just built an enormous base of goodwill."
In the race for the Democratic nomination, polls had Edmondson leading Askins by 4 to 8 percent.
In most of the early polls, the state is tending to lean slightly Republican, but a lot could change before the November 2010 election, said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.
"It's still a long ways off," Debnam said. "A lot is going to depend on how the economy turns around."
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