OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Tom Daxon, a former state auditor and inspector and longtime Republican activist, was elected Saturday to be the GOP's new chairman in Oklahoma.


Daxon defeated term-limited state Rep. Doug Miller of Norman and former state Rep. Forrest Claunch of Midwest City in balloting for the position at a GOP rally of more than 500, including members of the state committee and elected officials.


He succeeds Gary Jones of Cache, who is leaving May 10. Jones announced he will run for state auditor and inspector. He was defeated for that post four years ago by Democrat Jeff McMahan.


Daxon left as budget director of the state House, where he made $99,000 a year, to take the $50,000 state party post. He said he got between 55 percent and 60 percent in the three-way balloting for state chairman.


He said he's optimistic Republicans can take control of the Oklahoma Senate for the first time since statehood and that his first order of business is to help the GOP win the race for the vacant District 38 seat in southwest Oklahoma.


U.S. Sen. James Inhofe said Republicans had raised $150,000 to help Mike Schulz, a longtime Altus farmer, win the post left vacant by the death of Sen. Robert M. Kerr, D-Altus. Robbie Kerr, the late senator's widow, is the Democratic nominee for the May 9 special election.


Daxon said the governor's race can be won by a Republican this year, despite arguments by some that incumbent Democrat Brad Henry will be difficult to beat because of a strong economy.


Daxon said he intended to expose Henry as ``a liberal'' whose policies are not good for economic growth. ``He's not a moderate. He's not a conservative.''


Jones served for more than three years as chairman and was at the helm in 2004, when the GOP took over the state House for the first time in eight decades and Tom Coburn won a bruising contest with Democrat Brad Carson for the U.S. Senate.


This year, the big races will be for governor, 5th District Congress, lieutenant governor and control of the Oklahoma Senate.


U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook of Warr Acres, Tulsa businessman Robert Sullivan and state Sen. James Williamson, also of Tulsa, are vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination and spoke to Republicans at a luncheon on Saturday.


Afterward, an informal straw poll of those hearing the speeches showed Istook and Sullivan each with 93 votes and Williamson with 21.


Sullivan said it was the first time he had attended such a GOP gathering. He said he had no ``political IOUs'' and as a businessman would bring ``a fresh approach'' to the office. He said his two Republican opponents, as well as Henry, are lawyers and career politicians.


Istook and Williamson said they had proven conservative credentials and their experience would be valuable to the state.


Williamson said he was ``a proud Christian who would bring a Christian world view'' to the office.


Istook said he has a long record of supporting family values and believes government cannot solve all of society's problems. He said a governor should use his office as ``a bully pulpit'' to ``challenge people to be better than they are.''


Both Williamson and Sullivan said they had signed the so-called taxpayer bill of rights, which seeks to limit government growth to a combination of population growth and the inflation rate.


Istook said he favors the concept, but wants to make sure the plan would not have unintended consequences, such as limiting tax cuts that would help the economy.


Republicans seeking to succeed Istook are Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode and state Reps. Kevin Calvey and Fred Morgan.