Odom pulls out of 4th District congressional race

Thursday, August 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Ben Odom withdrew from the Democratic primary runoff in the 4th Congressional District on Thursday, saying he wanted to give his party the best possible chance of regaining the congressional seat held by Rep. J.C. Watts.

The Norman attorney said that since the Republicans have already selected their nominee, Tom Cole, the Democratic party would be at a disadvantage financially if it had to hold a runoff.

Odom finished second to Ardmore Democrat Darryl Roberts, but neither got 50 percent of the vote, forcing the pair into a Sept. 17 runoff. Odom's withdrawal leaves Roberts as the Democratic nominee.

``A runoff would probably ensure a Republican victory because we would have to expand our Oklahoma resources and the winner would be at a disadvantage financially,'' Odom said. ``This is time for us to unite for a victory in November.''

Meanwhile, Tulsa attorney Tom Boettcher rejected Odom's suggestion that Boettcher step aside in favor of David Walters in the race to decide which Democrat will face incumbent Sen. Jim Inhofe in November.

``The momentum is clearly in my favor,'' said Boettcher, who finished second in Tuesday's balloting behind Walters, the former governor.

Roberts, a former state senator, received 34,393 votes or 48 percent to 24,351 votes or 34 percent for Odom.

Odom, the 1998 Democratic nominee for the seat, had been widely regarded as the favorite for the office, but decided to step down in hopes a Democratic candidate would receive Democratic National Congressional Committee dollars.

``Staying in the race would make me a de facto instrument to the Republican Party, which I refuse to do,'' Odom said.

State senators and representative from the 4th Congressional District attended Odom's press conference and vowed to support Roberts in the November election.

``This is a sad day, because we are losing a great statesman in Ben, but he's doing the right thing so we can elect the right person to Congress,'' said Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington.

Odom, wearing a Roberts sticker on his lapel, said he would actively campaign for Roberts.

Roberts, a Vietnam veteran and retired colonel, said Odom's withdrawal is the linchpin to his campaign.

``We have known this was going to be of a lot of interest, Tom Cole has even acknowledged that,'' Roberts said. ``Before I got into this I was told national resources would be contributed and this is the right decision.''

The race for the 4th District, which includes much of south-central Oklahoma, was supposed to be a safe one for Republicans. That changed when Watts announced he would retire.

Democrats viewed it as an opportunity to snatch back the seat, which historically has been in their control. Watts was only the second Republican in state history to represent the district in Washington.

Cole, a longtime friend of Watts, finished first in a field of six Republicans. He got 60 percent of the vote.