GOP slugfest to beef up primary vote

Saturday, July 24th 2004, 11:29 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A slugfest in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate is expected to beef up the voter turnout for Tuesday's primary election in Oklahoma.

Michael Clingman, secretary of the state Election Board, is predicting a moderate turnout of about 600,000 voters. That would be an increase of 100,000 votes from a similar election eight years ago.

Besides a bitterly fought and expensive campaign by GOP Senate candidates, Clingman said the number of open seats in the Legislature because of term limits should increase the turnout statewide.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the state's 77 counties.

The GOP Senate candidates are ex-Congressman Tom Coburn of Muskogee, former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony and newcomer Jay Richard Hunt.

Rep. Brad Carson of the 2nd Congressional District is a heavy favorite among five Democratic candidates. His closest competitor is Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher, who is fighting criminal charges and an impeachment inquiry.

Others in the Democratic race are Jim Rogers of Midwest City, Monte E. Johnson of Sallisaw and W.B.G. Woodson of Tulsa.

Independent Sheila Bilyeu will be on the November general election ballot for the Senate post Republican Don Nickles is vacating after 24 years.

In another hard-fought contest, state Rep. Dan Boren and longtime prosecutor Kayln Free meet in the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District post Carson is vacating. Two other Democrats are in the race but have not actively campaigned.

Boren is the son of University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former governor and U.S. senator. Free was with the U.S. Department of Justice for 10 years before becoming district attorney in McAlester.

The winner will be favored in November in the heavily Democratic district. Three candidates are seeking the GOP nomination _ Wayland Smalley of Chelsea, Damon Harris of Claremore and Raymond Wickson of Okmulgee.

Only one of the four GOP incumbent congressmen face primary opposition. In the 1st District, John Sullivan is being challenged by Bill Wortman and Evelyn Rogers. In the 5th Congressional District primary, two Oklahoma City men _ Harley Venters and Bert Smith _ square off for the right to face Rep. Ernest Istook in the general election.

Polls have shown Coburn and Humphreys in a close race that has been dominated by charges of questionable land deals and double crosses.

Anthony began the fireworks with television commercials that questioned the ethics of Humphreys for selling land to the Oklahoma City school board after he left the board.

In the two weeks leading up to the primary, Humphreys ran ads attacking Coburn's votes against funding bills and his commitment to military veterans.

Coburn countered by charging that Humphreys had gone back on a promise not to engage in negative campaigning. Humphreys said his ads were not negative and it was fair game to point out a candidate's voting record.

``We were put in a situation where Bob Anthony was banging on me and we thought it was a necessary step to take to inform people of Coburn's voting record,'' the former mayor said Friday.

Nickles stepped into the fray last week by asking all parties not to engage in negative campaigning the rest of the campaign.

Humphreys said the outcome is ``impossible to tell'' because people are still making up their minds. ``We'll be pushing hard the next 72 hours, knocking on doors, putting out yard signs,'' he said.

Coburn said he had a hard-working group of volunteers that will help his cause. ``We're in the final lap. The key is getting out the vote,'' he said.

Coburn said he hoped there wouldn't be a runoff.

He was en route to Oklahoma City Friday and planned to campaign Saturday in Lawton and Duncan. Humphreys was to attend a parade in Woodward over the weekend.

Democrats are hoping the heated GOP primary will work to Carson's advantage.

``A divisive Republican primary that drives up your opponent's negatives is certainly a benefit to the Democratic nominee,'' said Tom Kielhorn, veteran Democratic pollster.

``It's nice to have somebody else doing the negative work for you. That's means Carson will have to spend less dollars himself on negative or comparative advertising.''