Largent favored in GOP race; Demo runoff possible

Monday, August 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Steve Largent, a former congressman and football star, is heavily favored in the Aug. 27 Republican gubernatorial primary, while restaurant kingpin Vince Orza and a trio of legislators battle for the Democratic nomination.

A Sept. 17 runoff in the Democratic primary is considered a possibility. Orza, who ran for governor as a Republican a decade ago, has been leading in the polls.

Other candidates are veteran Democratic Sens. Brad Henry of Shawnee and Kelly Haney of Seminole, state Rep. Jim Dunegan of Calera and little- known James E. Lamkin of Bixby.

Facing Largent are a pair of political newcomers _ Andrew Marr Jr. of Norman, a design engineer, and Jim Denny of Oklahoma City, a motivational speaker whose two children survived the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Waiting to challenge the Republican and Democratic nominees in Nov. 5 general election is independent Gary L. Richardson, a Tulsa attorney who has separated himself from past independent candidates by pumping more than $1.5 million of his own money into the race.

The candidates are seeking to succeed Republican Gov. Frank Keating, who is winding up eight years in office and cannot seek re-election.

Largent has said Keating has built a good foundation for state growth, but has differed with the incumbent on some issues, including education.

Largent is a Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver who played in Seattle. Raised in Oklahoma City, he settled in Tulsa after his football career and won three terms in the U.S. House from the 1st District.

He resigned early to devote full time to the governor's race. Largent is considered a prohibitive favorite in the GOP primary against two candidates with little money or political experience.

Largent has raised more than $2 million, and has set aside about half of it for the general election.

While in Congress, Largent got the reputation as among its more conservative members, launching an attack in his first year against the National Endowment for the Arts.

He says he was misunderstood as a radical religious right conservative because he was not bashful about proclaiming his faith. He said he considers himself a moderate within the GOP who can bring people together.

He stresses more local control of public schools and tax cuts, from phasing out the income tax to eliminating the estate tax.

A month before the primary vote, Largent and two of his children left for Guatemala for a mission trip.

Orza, an energetic Connecticut native, has been running on his success as a businessman, saying he has the knowledge and drive to convince corporate executives to bring jobs to the state.

A former teacher and television newsman, he also stresses education, workers compensation reform, elimination of state income tax and other tax cuts.

Orza heads Eateries Inc., which has more than 70 restaurants in 27 states.

In 1990, Orza was expected to finish third in the GOP primary against two better-financed candidates. He finished first, but lost in a runoff.

Henry mounted a television advertising blitz a month before the election in a bid to improve his name recognition.

An attorney, Henry said his reputation for tackling tough issues will serve him well as governor. He points to his efforts to change the work comp system, legislation to reform the HMO system and his support of education.

Henry supports a state lottery for scholarships and other education programs.

Haney, who opposes a lottery, also said he has expertise in financing state government because of his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

He says his record in support of education speaks for itself.

A noted Indian artist and sculptor, Haney sculpted ``The Guardian,'' the statute of an Indian warrior that recently was erected atop the new Capitol dome.

He says he will be ``a guardian'' of the rights of all Oklahomans and continue to work to improve education and other vital services.

Dunegan also points to his efforts on behalf of education and highways over the years.

Lamkin, 81, ran for the 1st Congressional District as a Democrat earlier this year. He filed a statement with the Ethics Commission saying he did not plan to spend more than $500 during his campaign.

Orza, who won endorsements from teacher and state worker associations, led Democrats in fund-raising in the quarterly report filed in late July. He had $908,000, compared with $786,595 for Henry, $510,527 for Haney and $89,000 for Dunegan.

Marr, who said he would not take campaign contributions, said the state is losing millions of dollars each year because sand, gravel and rock is being extracted and taken out of state tax free.