CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) _ Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Northeast Oklahoma, but voters like the job GOP physician Tom Coburn did in the House. Nevertheless, Coburn's hand-picked choice to succeed him, Muskogee car dealer Andy Ewing, is running slightly behind in a race where both national parties are financing a barrage of attack ads.
``I just don't like this Democrat-Republican fight,'' says 73-year-old Marquetta Northweather, waving a pair of pruning sheers while standing in her yard. ``I want them to be statesmen, to be for the country.''
Typical of other Democrats in Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District, Northweather guarantees her vote to neither party. She thinks Coburn has ``done what's right'' in his six years in office but now wants a congressman who will shore up Social Security and help seniors pay for medication. She likes auto dealer Ewing but isn't sure whether he or the young Democratic lawyer running against him, Brad Carson, would do a better job.
Locked in a neck-and-neck race for control of the next House, the two national parties have unleashed a bitter ad war before the fickle Democrats in eastern Oklahoma's lakeside retirement communities, rural towns and Indians.
``It's one of the best opportunities in the country to take away a Republican-held seat,'' says John Del Cecato, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Both candidates are political novices and express disdain for the mudslinging that has seized the race, even when their own campaigns have provided some of the ammunition.
``Like a lot of car salesmen, Andy Ewing has trouble with the truth,'' states an ad that Carson's own campaign committee sponsored. An ad run on Ewing's behalf describes Carson as ``a liberal who's worked for Bill Clinton.'' Ewing's campaign manager, Karl Algren, said the national party paid for the commercial that was nominally sponsored by the Republican State Committee of Oklahoma.
The candidates clashed on issues of abortion and term limits in a televised debate. Carson challenged Ewing to withdraw negative ads and said he would do the same. But both candidates indicated it was unlikely the national parties would halt the most venomous ads that have drawn complaints from voters.
``Neither one of us have any control over it,'' Ewing said.
Ewing, 62, tells voters again and again that his 29 years as a car dealer prepared him to offer what they need most _ good customer service. He promises to follow in Coburn's footsteps, serving no more than three terms and avoiding partisan politics.
``If it's right, it's right. If it's wrong, it's wrong,'' he says.
But a recent poll by the Tulsa World showed Ewing trailing Carson, 33, who is emphasizing education and helping the elderly.
A registered Cherokee, Carson grew up on the Navajo reservation and is courting American Indians, who make up 15 percent of the district's voting population.
``He's been around Indian people and that means a lot to Indian people,'' says George Tiger, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and host of a local television program called ``Inside Native America.'' ``They sense the sincerity of his heart.''