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Fallin's decision changes 2006 election picture

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin's decision to pass up a race for governor for a second time has changed the landscape for the 2006 elections.

Fallin's announcement that she intends to run for re-election has already reduced the number of potential candidates for the state's No. 2 job and left the GOP without a proven statewide vote-getter as a candidate for governor.

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry appears to be in a strong position for an re-election bid. A poll released last week showed Henry with a 21-point lead over Fallin and a 14-point lead over former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts if he faced either in an election.

With Watts still considering whether to enter the race, state Sen. Jim Williamson, R-Tulsa, and Tulsa oil executive Robert Sullivan are the only active Republican gubernatorial candidates so far. Officials say it's still early and there could be some surprise candidates for governor and lieutenant governor before next summer's filing period.

One wild card is Gary L. Richardson, who finished third in the 2002 governor's race as an independent. Richardson confirmed to The Associated Press that he is considering running for the state's No. 1 job again, this time as a Republican.

``I am giving it consideration,'' the Tulsa attorney said. ``I've been getting a lot of encouragement to run as a Republican. I figure I've got another three or four months to make a decision.''

Richardson, an ex-U.S. attorney, is a former unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress. He got more than 140,000 votes after spending more than $2 million of his own money to run for governor as and independent. He finished behind Henry and Steve Largent, the GOP nominee.

An important figure in the 2004 elections _ former U.S. Rep. Brad Carson of Claremore _ has returned to Oklahoma after a teaching stint at Harvard University and is being mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor next year.

Carson, who lost a bruising U.S. Senate race last year to Republican Tom Coburn, has offered to raise money for the debt-ridden Oklahoma Democratic Party. He declined to say how serious he was about a run for lieutenant governor.

``I just got back to Oklahoma from Boston,'' Carson said. ``I am looking forward to getting involved in helping Oklahoma move forward, but I've made no decisions about the future.''

Among Republicans, House Speaker Todd Hiett of Kellyville and veteran Rep. Fred Morgan of Oklahoma City say they no longer are considering running for lieutenant governor now that Fallin plans to seek re-election.

Fallin's departure from the governor's race also elevates the importance of the battle for control of the Oklahoma Senate, while adding angst to GOP hopes of recapturing the governor's seat, officials said.

A poll released last week showed Henry with a 72 percent approval rating. In a mock race between state's top two elected officials, Henry got 48 percent and Fallin got 27 percent.

The Oklahoma Poll, sponsored by The Tulsa World and Tulsa television station KOTV, also showed Henry getting 48.5 percent to Watts' 33.9 percent, with 17.6 percent not expressing a preference or refusing to respond. A total of 750 registered voters were surveyed in the statewide telephone poll, with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, predicted Fallin would easily win re-election to a fourth term. He said her decision to stay in her current position also strengthens the GOP's chances for taking control of the Senate since the lieutenant governor can vote to break ties.

Democrats now have a 26-22 majority in the Senate. In 2004, Republicans won enough seats to take control of the 101-member House for the first time in more than eight decades.

State Democratic Chairwoman Lisa Pryor said the strength at the top of the ticket _ with Henry and other state officers such as Attorney General Drew Edmondson _ bodes well for Democrats trying to hold the Senate.

Pryor predicts the Senate will remain in Democrats' control and ``I think we will pick up a significant number of House seats.''

As far as Fallin's decision, Pryor said it is evident the lieutenant governor took a look at Henry's poll numbers and decided she could not defeat the former state senator from Shawnee.
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