Democratic Senate candidate pledges to work for `Oklahoma Party'

Saturday, October 23rd 2004, 3:49 pm
By: News On 6

CORDELL, Okla. (AP) _ Brad Carson shows up in cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans. But it's the way he talks about gay marriage that brings nods of approval in this farming community.

``Marriage,'' the U.S. Senate candidate tells a few dozen residents in a campaign stop, ``is between a man and a woman.''

``Like God made it,'' an elderly voter calls out.

``I understand,'' the Democrat assures her.

From voting against same-sex marriages to touting President Bush's tax cuts to talking about Sooner football, Carson wants Oklahomans to see ``I'm one of them.''

His opponents paint the folksy conservatism he exudes on the campaign trail as a fraud _ all the way down to the boots.

They call him a liberal in the vein of John Kerry, a tag that rings like a profanity in a state where Bush is the overwhelming favorite, the eastern Oklahoma congressman says. But he believes even Bush supporters will find the Republican nominee, former Rep. Tom Coburn, too extreme Nov. 2.

``Our challenge is to point out that when Tom Coburn calls me a liberal, it says more about him than about me,'' Carson says. ``EVERYONE is more liberal in comparison to Tom Coburn.''

The 37-year-old Democrat calls himself a member of the ``Oklahoma Party'' first.

He drives a beat-up pickup truck on the campaign trail and is quick to note he's owned it for a decade. The boots, too, are him, he says. He wore them even as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England.

``The idea I could have grown up wearing cowboy boots or have had this pickup for 10 years is something they think can't be true,'' he says of his critics.

He believes his opponents are mystified by the closeness of the race for the seat Republican Sen. Don Nickles is leaving after 24 years.

Both he and Coburn have served the 2nd Congressional District, although under a different configuration. Each accuses the other of skewing his voting record.

In western Oklahoma towns hit hard by an exodus of people and jobs, Carson's target is Coburn's own crusade against government spending.

``We have never sent anybody to Washington who made not doing anything for us his platform,'' the Democrat tells a crowd after the fall parade in Hobart.

He adds in Cordell, ``If we had Tom Coburn in the 1930s and 1940s, we wouldn't even have rural electricity.''

And in Weatherford, he pledges to ``be there when you need me,'' reminding voters that former Sen. Robert Kerr helped turn landlocked eastern Oklahoma into a Gulf port.

``We had a senator once who made Norman, Oklahoma, a naval base,'' Carson says. ``Now THAT is an achievement.''

Coburn accuses the Democrat of half-truths and trying to have it both ways on important issues. Carson has voted against tax cuts more than he supported them, the Republican says. And while Carson may duck the liberal tag, his record is that of a big spender, Coburn says.

``There's only 10 percent of the members of Congress that want to spend more money than Brad does,'' Coburn said during a debate on ``Meet The Press.''

In Hobart, Carson trails the fire truck, the kids on bicycles and the horse club in the fall parade. He greets voters with a quiet ease, but some admit privately they're put off by the rancor of the race and confused by television ads on both sides.

``All of them lie to you,'' complains 69-year-old retired prison guard Lawton Smith.

The race's stakes are high: A change in two seats could alter the GOP's control of the Senate.

Republicans say millions of dollars of ``liberal Democratic money'' are pouring into the state on Carson's behalf, buying influence the ``Oklahoma Party'' lacks.

``He says one thing in Oklahoma and does another thing in Washington,'' says Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, echoing a popular GOP refrain.

The Democrat says he's a critic of his party and disagrees with Kerry on issues such as the war in Iraq and rolling back top bracket tax cuts. Asked to name his choice for president, though, he responds with a clipped, ``I'm a supporter of the Democratic nominee, of course.''

Carson has campaigned so hard as a conservative that some liberal supporters are angry.

The Oklahoma City-based Progressive Alliance Political Action Committee wanted him to pull one television ad that it said ``demonized'' the group's political identity.

Behind the wheel of his pickup truck on a lonesome sweep of prairie, Carson says both parties are ``off the rails'' when it comes to understanding Oklahoma voters.

One reason the state's Democratic majority tends to vote Republican is that voters want someone like them, he says.

``They look at George Bush in this presidential race and they say `Oh, that's me,''' Carson says. ``He's clearing brush in Crawford. John Kerry is windsurfing off Nantucket. Which is more like the average person in Washita County?''

Carson and his wife, Julie, moved to Claremore in 1998 but his family's Oklahoma roots go back to the Trail of Tears. His mother is part Cherokee.

The candidate graduated Jenks High School and earned his law degree at the University of Oklahoma. He grew up near the Navajo Reservation and other Indian reservations in Kansas and North Carolina where his father served as a government extension agent.

The hardship he saw there shaped his desire to serve, to do ``something better,'' he says, to go to places like Cordell where voters say they choose the man over the party.

Unlike Coburn, Carson tells them, he'll speak for ``people like you and me.''

``People that drive a pickup truck that has 130,000 miles on it,'' he says, ``and who wear cowboy boots that need to be resoled.''