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Presidential candidates skip Oklahoma; Bush's coattails watched

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Presidential candidates have skipped Oklahoma in their general election campaigns, but Republicans are hoping incumbent President George Bush will provide coattails for their U.S. Senate candidate.

Neither Bush or Democratic nominee John Kerry, D-Mass., are scheduled to campaign in Oklahoma before the Nov. 2 general election.

``I think it is an issue of resources and where best to focus,'' Democratic state Chairman Jay Parmley said of why the candidates are bypassing Oklahoma.

Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, said there is an outside chance that President Bush will come to Oklahoma to help Tom Coburn, the GOP Senate nominee.

Coburn and Democrat Brad Carson are in a tight, intense battle for the Senate post Republican Don Nickles is vacating after 24 years.

It is generally conceded that Nickles, a little-known state senator when he first ran for the U.S. Senate, benefited from Republican Ronald Reagan's coattails in 1980.

Nickles defeated Democrat Andy Coats, former Oklahoma County district attorney and Oklahoma City mayor who is now dean of the University of Oklahoma law school.

Democrats and Republicans differ on whether Bush's coattails will be as long as Reagan's and whether they will have much impact on the Senate contest, much less legislative races.

Republicans are making an all-out effort to capture control of the state House for the first time since 1921 and also expect to make inroads in the state Senate, which has been solidly Democratic.

In 1980, Reagan grabbed 62.5 percent of the vote cast in the presidential race in Oklahoma against Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter, who had come close in 1976 to becoming the first Democrat to grab Oklahoma's electoral votes since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Oklahoma's election in 1980 was notable in that more than 60,000 Oklahomans who went to the polls did not cast a vote in the presidential race.

Jones said he is confident support for Bush will translate into support for Oklahoma Republicans.

``I think it will be important in several races that will be particularly close,'' he said.

He predicted Oklahomans would wind up voting for Bush by almost a 2-1 margin and ``they will want to send a senator to Washington who will be supportive of him.''

Much to the dismay of Republicans, Carson has been running ads showing himself shaking hands with Bush, along with a letter from the president praising the Democrat for voting for tax relief.

Jones has called the ad deceptive and said Carson is obviously running from the Democratic nominee.

``But Carson also has said he supports Kerry and will be voting for him and that's something we will be hanging around his neck,'' Jones said.

Parmley said he is not expecting any significant coattail effect unless Bush gets upward of 60 percent of the vote.

Even still, Parmley said, Democrats can negate Bush's influence ``by working harder'' to get out their vote.

Soon after Coburn grabbed a surprising 61 percent of the vote to defeat two well-known candidates in the GOP primary without a runoff, Jones was predicting the Muskogee doctor would easily beat Carson by a margin that would help other GOP candidates.

Coburn was up by several percentage points in the polls at one point, but surveys in recent weeks have shown the Senate race very close.

Parmley said that's a big advantage for Democrats.

``As long as he (Carson) stays in the lead, we think that is a bigger help to our down ballot candidates than any negative we might have due to George Bush's popularity,'' the Democratic official said.

Carson was up by 5 percentage points in a recent poll by Wilson Research Strategies, commissioned by KWTV NEWS9 in Oklahoma City. The poll of 500 likely voters had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

In the same poll, Bush got 57 percent of the vote and held a lead of more than 25 percentage point over Kerry.

After Carson's rise in the polls, national Republicans began coming to Oklahoma to campaign for Coburn, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Jones said former President George Herbert Walker Bush, the president's father, may also come to the state for Coburn.
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