OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Playing catch-up to front-runner Mary Fallin, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett took his Republican 5th Congressional District runoff campaign on the road last week, while Fallin said she would press on with a strategy that led to her finishing first in a six-candidate primary.
Fallin got almost 35 percent to Cornett's 24 percent and also has a lead in fundraising of more than 3-to-1 as the Aug. 22 runoff election nears.
On top of that, she received the unanimous endorsement of the other four GOP candidates in the July 25 primary _ Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode, state Reps. Kevin Calvey and Fred Morgan and Johnny Roy, an Oklahoma physician.
So how can Cornett overcome Fallin's lead? ``You win it at the grass-roots level,'' he said in a telephone interview last Friday during a bus tour of Seminole and Pottawatomie Counties in the eastern half of the district that includes Oklahoma City.
``That's the way I've won all of my campaigns and that's the way I think I will win this one.''
Cornett was campaigning in an area where Fallin has strong ties and got a big vote advantage in July. She was reared in Tecumseh, where both her father and mother served as mayor.
Fallin, three-term lieutenant governor and a former state House member from Oklahoma City, said her latest pre-runoff campaign report filed with the Federal Election Commission puts her past the $1 million mark, allowing her to run television and radio ads regularly since the primary.
Cornett has raised just over $399,000, but $226,352 came between July 6 and Aug. 3, according to a campaign spokesman, leaving him with $136,325 in cash, part of which can be used for a television effort late in his runoff drive. Fallin raised about $173,000 during the period.
Fallin believes she has the momentum after picking up a good portion of undecided voters in leading the primary by a larger percentage than her own polls indicated.
She is banking on getting more backing than Cornett from hardcore conservative Republicans who show up at runoff elections. Traditionally, the turnout for a runoff is lower than the primary election.
Referring to her efforts to preside over the Democrat-controlled Senate to influence such issues as right to work and changes in the workers' compensation system, she said:
``I've been fighting for conservative values for a long, long time. I stood up when it wasn't the easiest thing to do and my opponent hasn't had the opportunity to do that in his service in local municipal government.''
Cornett, who was re-elected in March against token opposition in a nonpartisan race, said he believes people are just now beginning to focus on the congressional runoff contest and predicted he will garner most of the votes of non-activists he calls ``the real people.''
A former television newsman who now runs a video production company, he said his business experience would be a bonus for Oklahoma in Congress and he would be a strong advocate for conservative issues. Also, he said, ``I will create jobs, just as I did as mayor.''
Cornett said ``career politicians'' have created a culture of overspending in Congress, ``but I believe change is coming to Washington and I want to be a part of it.''
Keith Gaddie, political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, said Fallin seems to be in good shape based on several factors, including research that shows 70 percent of front-runners win in a runoff and women do better than men in runoffs.
He said she also has the trust of many Republicans because of her efforts to build the GOP over the years.
``The worst case scenario for the Fallin campaign is that they have some kind of gosh-awful stumble that is highly publicized,'' Gaddie said.
Fallin and Cornett will meet in a town hall-type forum that will be broadcast live Monday at 6:30 p.m. on KFOR, Channel 4, from the Oklahoma History Center. Dr. David Hunter, the Democratic nominee, has been invited to make comments from the station's studio.
``Mick Cornett has to whip Fallin in debate and show plainly on television that he is a much better legislator than Mary Fallin,'' Gaddie said. ``I'm not sure a debate in a town hall format will allow him to do that.''
The winner of the GOP primary will likely be favored in the general election.
Fallin and Cornett are seeking to replace Republican Ernest Istook, who is his seventh term and now is chasing Democratic incumbent Brad Henry in the governor's race. Republican Mickey Edwards served eight terms from the 5th District before Istook's election.