Tuesday's run-off election features 22 legislative races

Sunday, August 22nd 2004, 10:59 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ In a preliminary to November's battle for control of the Oklahoma Legislature, Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls Tuesday to decide 22 House and Senate runoff contests.

For the first time, the primary runoff will not include a statewide race or a congressional contest, said Mike Clingman, secretary of the state Election Board.

Both Democrat Brad Carson and Republican Tom Coburn avoided runoffs in last month's primary for the U.S. Senate by getting more than 50 percent of the vote. They will meet in a general election showdown on Nov. 2.

Also on the ballot will be Sheila Bilyeu, an independent from Oak Hall, Va.

Only two candidates _ Republican incumbent Denise Bode and Democratic challenger John Wylie _ filed for the Corporation Commission, the only other statewide race that will be at stake in November.

``This is the first time in our history in a runoff primary that no office larger than the legislative positions is on the ballot,'' Clingman said.

He said that fact precludes him from gauging the turnout for Tuesday's election.

``I would not even be able to venture a number, given there is no statewide primary in either party, nor are there any runoffs in the congressional races or for the Corporation Commission,'' he said. ``Certainly, some legislative districts will have a fairly high turnout, but I don't think I can predict that.''

Term limits and retirements figure heavily in the large number of legislative runoffs. The Legislature has 51 open seats this year, mostly in the House and mostly caused by term limits.

Party officials are hoping some hotly contested primary runoffs will produce strong candidates for the November election, which will determine who controls the Legislature.

The big battle is in the House, where Democrats had a 52-48 advantage last session.

Republicans predict they can win at least three seats that had been held by Democrats, enough to assume control for the first time since 1921.

Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, said President Bush's anticipated landslide victory in Oklahoma should help the GOP drive.

Jones said a strong showing by Coburn in the Senate race also could provide some coattails.

``I think a lot of people didn't want a Republican primary for the Senate, but we came out of it with a lot of momentum,'' he said.

``Is that the same momentum they've been saying they've had since 1994?'' asked Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, referring to past GOP predictions of legislative gains.

Askins has been tapped by her caucus as the next speaker of the House, should Democrats stay in power.

She said Democrats have a raft of quality candidates and could ``pick up some open Republican seats, as well as picking off some incumbents.''

Of the 18 House runoff elections, 15 are Democratic contests.

Among the most competitive races are in District 28, between Jeremy Hendricks and Ryan D. Kiesel, both of Seminole, for the post left vacant when Rep. Dan Boren ran for Congress in the 2nd District. Boren won his primary and will be favored in November over Republican Wayland Smalley of Sallisaw.

Another top race is in District 42, where Noland Bullard of Elmore City is facing Patrick Grimmett of Pauls Valley for the post that had been held by term-limited Democrat Bill Mitchell of Lindsay, who retired after the Legislature adjourned.

A couple of the competitive races are in Oklahoma City. In District 92, Patti Muzny faces Richard Daniel Morrissette. Muzny is a longtime aide to the incumbent, Bill Paulk.

In District 97, Mike Shelton, a Langston University employee and former campaign manager for veteran Rep. Kevin Cox, is running for his post. He faces Ronald Skip Kelly, an attorney.

There are two runoffs in District 86, which Speaker Larry Adair of Stilwell also is vacating because of term limits. The Democratic candidates are W.H. Bill Langley Jr. and John Auffet. The Republicans are Russell Don Turner and Hiram McFarland.

Among the competitive Senate races is in District 13, where Mike Wilkerson is seeking to succeed his brother, Sen. Dick Wilkerson. He was forced into a runoff by Susan Paddack. Both candidates are from Ada.