OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Republicans captured up to eight new seats in the Oklahoma House and three in the Senate in a seemingly relentless march toward gaining majority status in the Legislature.
Republican leaders attributed Tuesday's stunning election results to the voters' demand for change in state government and the popularity of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush in Oklahoma.
``We had the better candidates who had new and innovative ideas, which Oklahomans desperately want,'' Minority Leader Fred Morgan said.
The GOP picked up five House seats by defeating Democratic incumbents. The party won three more when Republican candidates won seats being vacated by Democratic incumbents.
In District 96, Rep. Mark Seikel, D-Harrah, lost his re-election bid against Republican Lance Cargill. And Republican Thad Balkman defeated Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, for the District 45 seat.
In District 40, Rep. John Sellers, D-Enid, lost a re-election bid to Republican challenger Mike O'Neal.
With 86 percent of the votes counted early Wednesday, Republican John Smaligo was narrowly ahead in the race for the District 74 seat against incumbent Rep. Phil Ostrander, D-Collinsville, and Libertarian Albro Daniel.
In District 23, GOP challenger Sue Tibbs led Democratic Rep. Betty Boyd of Tulsa with 94 percent of the votes counted.
Republicans also won vacant seats formerly held by Democrats.
Republican Kris Steele defeated Democrat Terry LaValley for the District 26 House seat vacated by Rep. Bob Weaver, D-Shawnee.
Republican Stuart Ericson defeated Democrat Allan Harder for the District 13 seat vacated by Rep. Bill Settle, D-Muskogee.
And in District 32, Republican Kent Friskup defeated Democrat Danny Morgan for the seat vacated by Rep. Don Kinnamon, D-Stroud.
State Sen. Ben Brown, D-Oklahoma City, was defeated by Republican challenger Jim Reynolds in District 43.
Sen. Lewis Long, D-Glenpool, trailed GOP challenger Nancy Riley with 91 percent of the votes counted in District 37.
Also in the Senate, GOP candidate Jonathan Nichols defeated Democrat Pat Martin for the District 15 seat vacated by Sen. Trish Weedn, D-Purcell.
``The people want change,'' Morgan said. He said Tuesday's balloting marked the second consecutive election cycle in which the GOP has made gains in the House. Republicans picked up four seats two years ago.
``We recruited some outstanding candidates and they were well received,'' Republican Gov. Frank Keating said. ``We encourage people to run for office who are successful, educated, righteous people.''
``Oklahomans want to see the right to work enacted, stronger standards for our schools, reasonable workers' compensation laws and lower income taxes,'' Morgan said. ``We're looking forward to working with the Democrat majority to bring about that change.''
In spite of the GOP gains, Republicans will still be the minority party in the Legislature. There are currently 40 Republicans in the 101-member House and 15 in the 48-member Senate.
Republicans not only gained new seats but fought off Democratic challenges to take seats held by GOP incumbents.
GOP Sen. Robert Milacek of Waukomis overcame a challenge from former Democratic state Rep. Sean Voskuhl to win re-election to his District 19 seat.
In the House, Rep. Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, defeated former state Rep. Shelby Satterfield to maintain his District 68 seat.
Some prominent Democrats managed to fight off Republican challenges.
District 92 Rep. Bill Paulk, D-Oklahoma City, overcame a strong challenge from Republican challenger Jana Barber to win re-election.
In District 88, Rep. Debbie Blackburn, D-Oklahoma City, defeated Republican challenger Mike Osburn, Keating's former deputy chief of staff.
Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, won a three-way race for re-election to his District 44 seat against Republican and Libertarian challengers.
District 33 Sen. Penny Williams, D-Tulsa, led in a hard-fought race against Republican Paul Wilkening.