Presidential candidates begin filing in Oklahoma

Monday, December 1st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ President George W. Bush and four Democrats wanting his job filed papers Monday to qualify for Oklahoma's Feb. 3 presidential primary.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, was the first to pay the $2,500 filing fee with the state Election Board.

Next was Wesley Clark, the retired Army general from Arkansas, followed by Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Dean is not as well known in Oklahoma as some of the other candidates, but supporters say he will have momentum on his side if he wins the nation's first primary in New Hampshire, where he is leading in the polls.

``He has a very wide grass-roots campaign and quite a bit of support throughout the state,'' said Chilton Marshall of Norman, Dean's state director.

None of the candidates filed in person.

Calvin Reese, one of three Oklahoma military veterans who filed papers for Clark, said he was impressed by Clark during the candidate's campaign stop in Oklahoma City over the weekend.

``He is strong on the issues that concern veterans, mainly the health issues and the cuts in benefits by the present administration,'' Reese said. ``His values are the same as Oklahoma values. He believes in the working people of Oklahoma and the United States.''

Chad Alexander, former Republican state chairman, filed for President Bush, who will not be on the ballot unless he draws opposition.

``I try to help the Bush campaign all I can in Oklahoma,'' said Alexander, an Oklahoma City political consultant.

The three-day filing period ends at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Oklahoma moved its presidential primary from March to Feb. 3 this year and the move has produced a flurry of campaigning by Democratic candidates.

Michael Allen, regional coordinator for Gephardt, said Oklahoma ``is a key to our win scenario. After Iowa, Oklahoma is pretty big.''

Jesse Isbell, Gephardt volunteer in Oklahoma, said the large field could help the Missouri congressman because of his support from ``many different broad-based interest groups'' in Oklahoma, including unions.

All the major Democratic candidates except Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry have campaigned in the state. Among those who have campaigned extensively in Oklahoma are Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Gephardt.

Kerry's filing papers arrived by mail on Monday, but they were not accepted by election officials because they were accompanied by a regular check and not a cashier's check as required by law.

Michael Clingman, state Election Board secretary, said the Kerry campaign had been notified of the problem.

Democratic officials say the Oklahoma race is wide open and the winner could be determined by what candidate advertises the most in the weeks ahead.

Only Democratic and Republican candidates will be on the ballot because they are the only recognized political parties in the state.

Oklahoma held its first presidential primary in 1988, when Al Gore led a field of 12 Democrats and George H. W. Bush was first in a field of seven Republicans.

Republicans have won every presidential election except one since 1948. The exception was Lyndon Johnson from neighboring Texas in 1964.