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Gubernatorial race heats up early

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ One gubernatorial candidate has launched a statewide advertising campaign while other potential competitors still are trying to decide whether they're running.

More than a year before the election, Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson has formed an exploratory committee, filed the necessary paperwork with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and begun television advertising spots.

Campaigns for major offices have gotten longer in recent years, but Richardson may have set a record.

His television ads began running this week in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. They will continue in the Oklahoma City market for 30 days and for six weeks in Tulsa.

Richardson, an Independent, doesn't think he's ahead of schedule.

``To win as an Independent, we are convinced we can't do traditional things,'' he said. ``We have to think outside the box.''

He said he believes the early exposure will help with name identification and a grass-roots campaign organization.

Richardson, a former U.S. district attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, is a lifelong Republican who twice was the GOP nominee for Congress in the 2nd District. He lost both times to the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Synar.

Richardson said his decision to run as an Independent this time is not an admission that U.S. Rep. Steve Largent of Tulsa will surely get the GOP nomination for governor.

``This has nothing to do with Largent,'' he said.

An Independant never has won a major office or statewide office of any kind in Oklahoma. The last viable Independent candidate for governor was U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins, who had a base of support in the 3rd District, where he had been a Democratic congressman for 14 years.

He managed a third-place finish in the 1994 race for governor behind Republican Frank Keating and Democrat Jack Mildren.

Richardson said he believes most Oklahomans ``are sick of partisan politics'' and are ready for someone who doesn't owe allegiance to either of the major political parties.

He also points out that Democrats and Republicans are nearing parity in the Legislature, which he believes is an asset to an Independent.
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