Primary numbers give Oklahoma Democrats hope in US Senate race

Friday, July 30th 2004, 12:00 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Recent history is not in their favor, but the numbers from last week's primary election are giving Democrats hope they can win back the Senate seat Republican Don Nickles has held for 24 years.

Democrat Brad Carson, the second-term U.S. representative from the 2nd Congressional District, garnered 280,000 primary votes in Tuesday's election. He got 79 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field.

Carson's total was about 135,000 more votes than ex-Republican Congressman Tom Coburn received in getting 61 percent of the GOP tally.

More Democrats voted for Carson than all the Republicans who voted for Coburn, ex-Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony and newcomer Jay Richard Hunt.

Coburn surprised many by avoiding a runoff with his easy victory over Humphreys, who put $721,000 of his own money into his campaign and got only 25 percent of the vote. Anthony got 12 percent.

Another interesting statistic from the primary results is that a higher percentage of Democrats -- 34.2 percent -- turned out than did Republicans, 32.2 percent.

That's despite the fact that Carson did not have much opposition, with his main challenger, state Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher, facing felony embezzlement charges and an impeachment inquiry.

Coburn said some hard-fought legislative races in the heavily Democratic 2nd District pushed up the Democrats' vote total.

Election Board figures showed that the 2nd District had a turnout of 45 percent, partly because of a contentious battle for the Democratic nomination to succeed Carson between state Rep. Dan Boren, former prosecutor Kalyn Free and two others. Boren won without a runoff and is favored in the Nov. 2 general election.

Also, the three leading GOP candidates spent millions of dollars on television advertising in a bitter campaign that drew charges of double crosses and shady land deals.

Republicans have been on a roll the past several years in congressional races. Carson is the only Democrat in the delegation, winning after Coburn left Washington after three terms.

Nickles, elected during the Reagan landslide in 1980, was Oklahoma's junior senator for most of his career, serving with Democrat David Boren, Dan Boren's father, a former governor and the president of the University of Oklahoma.

Boren left Washington in 1994 and another Republican, Jim Inhofe of Tulsa, was elected at a special election, then won elections for full terms in 1996 and 2002.

Humphreys said the Coburn-Carson matchup is a tossup, in his view.

"In Carson's favor, he has the registration working for him and the fact that for a Republican to win, you have to get conservative Democrats to vote for you.

"What favors Coburn," Humphreys continued, "is that he has George W. Bush at the top of the ticket and that's worth some points."

Oklahoma has not voted Democratic in a presidential election since Texan Lyndon Johnson won in 1964.

Humphreys joined Coburn and Republican congressional leaders at a unity rally in Tulsa last week, lest any one think any bitterness was left over from the campaign.

Not attending, however, was Anthony, and Humphreys let it be known that he remained offended by Anthony's commercials implying that the former mayor profited from his public service through land deals.

Although Democrats may appear to be energized this year, state Republican Chairman Gary Jones said the race has just begun in Oklahoma and Coburn will be a powerful candidate with a strong grass roots organization.

He said Coburn showed he can sway conservative Democrats by winning three terms in the 2nd District and also has will benefit from having Bush is at the top of the GOP ticket.

"I can't imagine Oklahoma Democrats getting energized for John Kerry," Jones said.

Democratic voters once outnumbered Republicans more than 4-1, but now comprise just 52.5 percent of the almost two million registered voters in Oklahoma.

Republicans total about 743,000, or 37 percent, and independents about 205,000, or 10 percent. Libertarians and Reform Party voters make up the rest.

For his part, Carson is expecting a race that "will be tough and tight."