Largent's path to GOP nomination almost clear

Sunday, April 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ U.S. Rep. Steve Largent's path to the Republican nomination for governor in 2002 is almost clear at this point.

Nineteen months away from the election, political novice Jim Denny is the only declared GOP gubernatorial candidate. Denny is the father of two young children who survived the Oklahoma City bombing.

Largent wowed a crowd of 1,000 Republican activists at Saturday's state GOP convention, saying his competitive juices were flowing once again as he looks toward a statewide campaign.

The former Seattle Seahawks receiver, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said he would be traveling the state in the next 19 months, seeking input on a bid to succeed two-time Republican Gov. Frank Keating.

U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook of the 5th Congressional District also attended the convention and became the latest potential GOP candidate to publicly take himself out of the race.

Istook, R-Warr Acres, said he was concentrating solely on his next congressional election and ``moving up the appropriations latter'' in Congress.

Many had expected Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin to make the race, but citing family considerations, she announced last month that she would run for re-election.

While Largent, who represents the 1st District, was drawing applause from his fellow Republicans, Denny was having a quiet Saturday with his children, Brandon, 8, and Rebecca, 9.

He said he had ``read about the convention in the newspaper'' but did not attend, nor has he had any contact yet with party officials.

He said he will in time, but for now he's content to travel the state, speaking with people in small towns.

``I thought it was important to start out with the people instead of the party,'' Denny said.

Describing himself as ``a believer in the conservative way,'' Denny said he is still working on a platform and would accept ideas from Democrats if they are good ones.

``President George W. Bush is a person who is willing to work with both sides,'' he said. ``I think the only way that people will not be left behind is if we all work together.''

The 56-year-old motivational speaker said he is not intimidated by the fact that he is going up against a well-known football hero with a hefty campaign chest.

``I never could be intimidated, especially since April 19, 1995,'' he said of the bombing at the Oklahoma City federal building. His children were two of six in the daycare center who survived.

``In the 200 interviews I have done since then, I have never shown any anger, any bias. I think that proves I have good control over my actions.''

Denny said he was not running out of ego. ``Being governor is not a glamorous position _ it's a difficult job,'' he said. ``But I'm willing to take it on for the people.

``My slogan is _'for the people'_ and I've never meant three words more in my life. I will never lose focus on what this is all about.''

Largent said he also will be hitting the campaign trail in the coming months.

Although he has not made an official announcement, Largent is no longer keeping up any pretense about a possibility he will not run.

Supporters distributed Largent for Governor in 2002 T-shirts at Saturday's convention and Largent enlivened the audience with barbs at Democrats and promises to lead Republicans to ``the promised land.''

He said Oklahomans had ``been in the wilderness long enough'' under Democratic leadership in the Legislature and it is ``time to move into the promised land of hope and opportunity and prosperity.''

``I think Steve Largent is going to be the nominee,'' said state GOP Chairman Steve Edwards. ``I've never seen a candidate electrify a crowd like he did at the convention. It was like a prairie fire.''

As far as the general election, Edwards said he could not remember the name of the Oklahoma City area businessman who is considering the race.

He was speaking of Vince Orza, a Republican candidate for governor in 1994 who has since changed his party registration to Democrat. Former Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren also has said he is considering the race.