Oklahoma GOP gleeful over Democratic unrest

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

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Republicans emerged from Tuesday's primary with strong candidates for governor and Congress, while Democrats were fighting among themselves ahead of runoff primaries in key races.

While Steve Largent was the landslide winner in the Republican primary to succeed GOP Gov. Frank Keating, the Democratic nominee will not be known until a Sept. 17 runoff between the party's two gubernatorial front-runners, Vince Orza and Brad Henry.

Henry and two other Democratic candidates for governor had formed a pact to bring down Orza should the race end in a runoff.

State Sen. Kelly Haney, who finished third in the Democratic gubernatorial primary with 17 percent of the vote, promptly endorsed Henry, who said he also expected backing from state Rep. Jim Dunegan of Calera, who got 8 percent.

Henry, with 28 percent of the vote, has a long way to go to catch Orza, who got 44 percent, but he said he would resist a negative campaign.

``We believe we have the momentum,'' Henry said. ``We intend to continue to talk about the issues.''

Orza, who owns a chain of restaurants and is a former teacher, said he'll be talking about jobs and education.

Another Democratic runoff will be held for the Senate seat held by Republican Jim Inhofe.

Former Gov. David Walters was forced into a runoff in Tuesday's primary by Tom Boettcher, who ran a campaign that attacked the former governor. Boettcher has refused to support Walters should the former governor becomes the nominee.

Jay Parmley, state Democratic chairman, is not happy with that and went so far Wednesday as to side with Walters in the race, even though party leaders do not normally become involved in primaries.

While Parmley said he could not formally make an endorsement, he thinks Walters, when all is said and done, ``is our nominee and should be our nominee.''

The Democratic official said Boettcher ``has not lent himself to any support from the party by his actions the last month or two.''

Boettcher has been attacking Walters over a misdemeanor campaign law violation involving excessive donations in Walters' 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

``I think now you are going to see them look at each other and go at it for three weeks,'' Parmley said.

Boettcher defended himself Wednesday for not pledging to back Walters in the general election.

``The idea that any party member owes loyalty to someone, regardless of his or her conduct, is so fundamentally against the tenets and beliefs of our society and the values of Oklahomans,'' he said.

He said Walters represents ``a country club set'' that failed to recruit Democratic challengers for numerous Republican-held state House seats. Democrats now hold a 52-49 edge in the House and Republicans are predicting they will gain control this year for the first time since 1922.

Norman attorney Ben Odom was expected to announce Thursday that he would withdraw from the 4th District Democratic runoff. Former state Sen. Darryl Roberts and Odom finished 1-2 in Tuesday's balloting for the seat being vacated by Republican J.C. Watts.

Meanwhile, Tom Cole, veteran political strategist, surprised many by grabbing 58 percent of the vote and avoiding a runoff for the Republican nomination.

Chad Alexander, state Republican chairman, couldn't be happier with the turn of events that puts Democrats in runoff elections, while GOP candidates can keep their focus on the November general election.

``I think the Democratic Party is experiencing some political schizophrenia right now,'' Alexander said. ``I don't think they know what their identify is.

``The most important thing we took out of Tuesday night is that we are a united Republican Party. We know who we are and we know where we're going.''