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Voters To Pare Down State House, State Senate Candidates

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Primary races have ended for all but about a dozen state House and Senate candidates, who still must earn their spot on the November ballot with a runoff next month.

Most of the heated House and Senate primary races Tuesday were in districts forced open because of legislative term limits, but a handful of incumbents also faced challenges from within their own party.

Republican incumbent Dale DePue of Edmond was the only incumbent not to advance from the primary. DePue ended up in a runoff with Jason Murphey in the GOP primary for House District 31 in Logan County. DePue, who received 46 percent of the vote, trailed Murphey, who garnered 49 percent in the three-man race.

``DePue is in real trouble,'' said Keith Gaddie, political science professor at the University of Oklahoma. ``Research says an incumbent that ends up in a runoff will lose about 75 percent of the time, but the odds are even worse if you don't lead the primary.''

In Oklahoma City, Chip Keating, the son of former Gov. Frank Keating, faces a GOP runoff against David Dank in the race for House District 83. Dank, who led the four-man race with 43 percent of the primary votes, is the husband of state Rep. Odilia Dank, who is being forced out because of term limits.

In another House race, Al McAffrey, an openly gay candidate, won the Democratic primary outright in House District 88 in the heart of Oklahoma City. No Republicans filed for the seat, which means McAffrey will become the first openly gay member of the Legislature when he's sworn into office.

A longtime Oklahoma City funeral director and a Navy veteran, McAffrey said he didn't hide his sexual orientation, but didn't make it the focus of his campaign.

``I ran as a Democratic candidate in District 88, and I happen to be gay,'' McAffrey said. ``Health care, senior care, education, those are the things that really matter to the people.

``The people in Oklahoma want the government out of their social lives, and let's take care of things that matter to Oklahomans.''

On the Democratic side in the Senate, two closely watched Senate districts will see runoffs.

In Senate District 26 in western Oklahoma, military veteran Tom Ivester and Wayne Walters, the brother of former Gov. David Walters, will face a runoff in the race to replace term-limited state Sen. Gilmer Capps.

And in Cleveland County, Democrats John Sparks and Tim Emerich, both of Norman, will face off in a primary in the race to succeed longtime state Sen. Cal Hobson of Lexington, who failed in his bid for lieutenant governor.

Senate races are drawing particular attention this year because Democrats currently hold a slim 25-23 majority, and seven Democrats are being forced out of office because of term limits. Republicans have never controlled the Senate since statehood.

``We have seven open seats due to term limits, but those have been traditionally Democratic districts,'' said Lisa Pryor, chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. ``And we intend to hold every single one of them.

``We have our work cut out for us, but the Republicans' workload is even greater.''

In the Senate, only one Republican-held seat is open this year _ District 36 in Tulsa and Wagoner counties, where Scott Pruitt is stepping down to run for lieutenant governor.

But in the House, where Republicans hold a healthy 57-44 majority, the GOP has more open seats to defend. In 2002, the GOP took control of the House for the first time in 80 years.

Of the 25 open seats in the House, 15 are held by Republicans and 10 by Democrats. Only 15 of the open seats are the result of term limits. The other 10 seats are the result of incumbents stepping down either for personal reasons or to pursue other offices.

While many political analysts predict this year could be the first time in state history that Republicans take control of the Senate, most agree it won't happen without a tough political fight.

``The Republicans still have a road to go to get there,'' GOP strategist Neva Hill said. ``While there is a very good opportunity to make that a reality, anything can happen. It would be premature to say that it's a done deal.

``The Democrats are not going to lay down on this. They're going to battle for each seat, right down to the wire.''
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