Report: Candidates spend more than $1 million in ads in Oklahoma

Sunday, January 25th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma's new presidential primary date is drawing Democratic candidates and millions of dollars in campaign advertising to the state.

More than $1.5 million already has been spent and that amount could grow as last-minute media ads are purchased before the Feb. 3 election.

Records obtained by The Oklahoman from Oklahoma City and Tulsa television stations show candidates spent nearly $1.3 million for television spots in the state's two largest markets through early January.

Recently filed federal campaign reports show candidates spent more than $200,000 in Oklahoma through September.

"Everyone thinks they have a real chance to win the primary," said Jay Parmley, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "It's money well spent. Everybody is trying to find a state to win."

The late state Sen. Keith Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, authored legislation last year to move the presidential preferential primary from the Super Tuesday spot in March to February. The change has made Oklahoma one of the earliest primaries in the nation.

"We're not lost anymore," said James Davis, a political science professor at Oklahoma State University, who teaches classes in political campaigns. "It's not as though we'll crown a king, but we'll come close."

Gary Copeland, director of the University of Oklahoma's Carl Albert Center for Congressional Research and Studies, believes the early primary has benefits other than economic for the state.

"I have seen citizens more intellectually involved, active and thoughtful about politics than they normally are," Copeland said. "I think they have taken seriously their responsibility of having the opportunity to influence who their party's nominee may be."

Some Oklahoma Democrats see the move as a chance to get their message out to a state that's voted Republican in each general election since 1964.

"For the Democrats in this state, they always felt like they were being passed over," said Troy Colbert, communications director for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's campaign in Oklahoma. "I think this time their voices are being heard."

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark have spent the most money in Oklahoma.

Clark, of neighboring Arkansas, has spent more than $500,000 in TV ads, while Edwards has spent nearly $350,000 on commercials.

"I think it's clear the move of the primary helped increase the status of Oklahoma," said Heather Ann Hope, spokeswoman for the Clark campaign. "We have made substantial media buys since December."

Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Edwards campaign, said each election cycle is different, "and Oklahoma is critically important this cycle."

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have spent time visiting and targeting Oklahoma voters through media commercials.