Big turnout expected despite lack of big-name activity

Friday, November 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Despite being taken for granted by presidential contenders, Oklahoma voters are expected to turn out in heavy numbers for Tuesday's general election.

A few weeks ago, state Election Board Secretary Lance Ward was predicting a low turnout, based on an almost nonexistent presidential race in the state and the absence of a U.S. Senate or gubernatorial contest.

Now Ward is guessing ``a whole bunch'' will go to the polls to pick a president, six Congress members and fill 125 legislative posts, one state job and various county positions.

As usual, Republicans are expected to grab Oklahoma's eight electoral votes, with their nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, besting Democratic Vice President Al Gore.

Based on voter registration activity and requests for absentee ballots, the vote could between 1.2 million and 1.5 million, or between 55 percent and 65 per cent of registered voters, Ward says.

In Democrat Bill Clinton's victorious elections of 1992 and 1996, more than 60 percent of Oklahoma voters went to the polls. In 1988, when Bush's father was elected, only 55 percent voted.

Ward suspects that national news media coverage and predictions of a toss-up presidential contest are driving voter activity in Oklahoma, despite the fact that ``I haven't seen or heard any media advertising by either the Democrats or Republicans for president on the local media.''

With Bush considered virtually unbeatable in Oklahoma, neither he nor Gore have visited the state since the national conventions.

Although they maintain an edge in voter registration, Democrats have not carried a presidential election in Oklahoma since 1964, when another Texan, Lyndon Johnson, was elected.

``In the presidential race, all I can say is Al Gore will get 40 percent or more of the vote,'' says Gordon Melson, executive director of the state Democratic Party.

Democrats are hoping to recapture the 2nd Congressional District with newcomer Brad Carson of Claremore. Republican officials concede Republican Andy Ewing of Muskogee has had an uphill battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Tom Coburn in the heavily Democratic district.

The only other competitive congressional contest is expected in the 6th District, where incumbent Republican Frank Lucas of Cheyenne is favored over Democrat Randy Beutler of Elk City.

Incumbent Republicans Steve Largent in the 1st District, Wes Watkins in the 3rd District, J.C. Watts Jr. in the 4th District and Ernest Istook in the 5th District are heavy favorites against poorly financed opponents.

Democratic foes of those GOP congressmen are Dan Lowe of Tulsa in the 1st District, Larry Weatherford of Moore in the 4th District and Garland McWatters of Ponca City in the 5th District.

In the 3rd District, Watkins, a former Democrat, did not even draw a Democratic opponent and is matched against a Libertarian and an independent.

The only statewide race, other than for president, is the Corporation Commission post of Republican Bob Anthony, who is favored over Democrat Gilbert S. Bigby of Tahlequah and Libertarian Roger Bloxham of Tulsa.

Some of the most intense activity is for legislative seats as Republicans strive toward gaining majorities in the House and Senate.

They won't get there, says Melson, adding that Democrats have a shot at some seats once considered safe for Republicans.

There are 61 Democrats and 40 Republicans in the state House and 33 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the state Senate.

The outcome of the legislative races is crucial because of redistricting.

State Republican Chairman Steve Edwards says Republicans will emerge victorious in legislative contests. ``What I conclude as a victory is picking up three or four'' seats in the House and Senate, he said.

Libertarian Harry Browne and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan also are on the Oklahoma presidential ballot.

Libertarians are fielding candidates in all the congressional races, as well as for corporation commissioner.

Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday in the state's 77 counties and close at 7 p.m.

Six state questions are on the ballot, including one to create a constitutional trust fund to handle national tobacco settlement money.