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Candidates file, wave conservative banner

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma is known as one of the most conservative states in the country and candidates running to the political right dominated last week's mass filings for state, federal and legislative offices at the Capitol.

That's particularly true in the race for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District, as well as the GOP contest for governor.

U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, rated as one of the most conservative members of Congress, is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Istook made his mark in Congress pressing prayer-in-school initiatives.

His chief opponents are state Sen. James A. Williamson, a longtime leader on such conservative issues as right to work and anti-abortion bills, and Bob Sullivan, a Tulsa businessman who has taken the most conservative stand of any on tax cuts and fiscal policy.

Sullivan has called for elimination of the income tax, something Williamson says is unrealistic in a state that gets 35 percent of its income from that tax to fund schools and other essential programs.

Even the state's Democratic governor, Brad Henry, is casting himself in the conservative mold as he seeks a second term, pointing to his ability to work with Republicans on such issues as tax cuts. Henry takes a pro-death penalty stand and has signed tough anti-crime and anti-abortion legislation.

A crack in his conservative armor, his foes say, is his support for gambling programs, including a lottery he got passed to raise money for education.

In the 5th District, state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, declared himself to be ``the most conservative candidate,'' in the GOP race, pointing to his legislative record and endorsements from the Oklahoma Rifle Association, the state's affiliate with the National Rifle Association, and the conservative Club for Growth.

Denise Bode, a Corporation Commission member running for the post, stressed her own conservative views in television spots showing her teaching Sunday school and proposing a stern immigration policy that would deny automatic citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

Bode told reporters that conservatism to her means many things, including going to church, giving back to the community and ``being married for 29 years.''

State Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, also stressed his lengthy legislative record in support of conservative causes, most notably victims rights and anti-crime programs.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, considered the early front-runner in the 5th District, said that because of her experience as a member of the executive and legislative branches, she is best equipped to represent ``the commonsense conservative values of Oklahomans'' in Congress.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett is running a radio ad taking credit for a change in library policy that separated ``inappropriate'' books such as those with homosexual themes from access by children. Fallin, Calvey, Bode and Morgan protested the ad as deceptive, saying Cornett was AWOL on the issue. Cornett said he worked behind the scenes to change library policy.

Candidates for lieutenant governor and other state offices also are waving the conservative banner on the GOP side.

In a television spot, House Speaker Todd Hiett points to his role in passing the largest tax cut in state history in 2005 and what he said was the most significant anti-abortion legislation in a quarter of a century.

The commercial shows Hiett at his desk in a business suit and walking on his ranch at Kellyville wearing a straw cowboy hat. The camera cuts to a shot of him walking through prairie grass in his cowboy boots and ends with the tag line: ``Footsteps to the future.'' Hiett's primary opponents are Sen. Scott Pruitt, another conservative firebrand, and Nancy Riley, a state senator and former teacher.

Hiett is being heavily criticized by Democratic state Sen. Cal Hobson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination, for his votes as a House member on education and other issues. Other Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor are state Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, and Pete Regan of Afton, former congressional aide.

With few exceptions, Oklahoma voters will largely get a one-sided view on such issues as taxes, Iraq and immigration policy in the fall elections and that's not really a good thing, says Bob Darcy, political science professor at Oklahoma State University.

One exception to candidates' general support for the Iraq war effort _ including all of the incumbent congressmen _ is 5th District Democratic candidate Bert Smith, a Vietnam combat veteran.

Smith says it's time to change course and get American troops out of an ``ambush kill zone'' in Iraq. His primary opponent is Dr. David Hunter, a former Republican, who is focusing on changes in the health care system.

``Oklahoma is kind of a funny state in the sense that we don't really have an opposition voice,'' Darcy said. ``Go to Ohio. The people are as conservative as Oklahomans, but there is kind of an expectation that people will disagree.

``In Oklahoma, we don't really want to disagree, you might say. The conservatives have the mountaintop and it's very hard to say in Oklahoma that 'abortion isn't that bad and gay people are fine, I know a lot of gay people.' The few people who have tried to represent a different point of view have gone down.''

Being conservative is one issue, he said, but more important than philosophy for a winning candidate should be ``their credibility, ability to raise money and get elected and represent Oklahoma well.

``There is nothing wrong with people being conservative, but there is something wrong with the fact that people in public life who have different viewpoints don't feel they are able to articulate them.''

He said he thought it was somewhat of a myth that being a conservative guaranteed victory.

``Conservatives are not invincible. Steve Largent is an example,'' Darcy said.

Largent was upset in the 2002 general election by Henry, who described himself then as ``a fiscal conservative and social moderate.''
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