Candidates To Be Going After Donations After Poor Primary Turnout

Saturday, July 29th 2006, 2:08 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Candidates in the upcoming primary runoff face the usual challenge of raising funds and getting better organized than their opponents if they want to advance to the November general election.

But last Tuesday's poor primary turnout showed voter apathy, for one reason or another, making the candidates' task especially challenging as they look toward the Aug. 22 runoff.

Gary Copeland, University of Oklahoma political science professor, theorized that voters may be a bit ``depressed,'' as opposed to angry this year, and that made them less likely to show up at the polls.

Copeland said he thinks Oklahomans may be more optimistic than voters in other states, but their psyche could be negatively affected by such things as high gasoline prices and the turmoil in the Mideast.

``Whether the governor's race will invigorate voters remains to be seen, but if it goes negative, it will likely play against that.

``I can imagine that it could be a bad year for Republicans without necessarily being a good year for Democrats'' if Democrats are not energized enough to show up at the polls, he said.

Getting their message out for the runoff and general election will not be the first order of business for many candidates.

In the days ahead, they will be getting on the telephone and soliciting contributors to replace depleted campaign coffers, creating a likely lull before campaigns heat up again.

Republican U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, who is in an underdog role against incumbent Democrat Gov. Brad Henry, got 55 percent against three opponents to escape a runoff, but will be spending a lot of time raising funds in the near future.

``Not much,'' Istook said about the amount of money his campaign has to play with at this time. He raised less than $1 million, according to his preprimary report, less than Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan, who got 31 percent of the vote. Henry raised $3.3 million and had $2.6 million in cash.

Only 445,000 voters, or about 24 percent of the roughly two million Oklahoma voters, went to the polls for the regular primary, despite millions of dollars spent on television advertising, mainly by Republican candidates. State Election Board Secretary Mike Clingman had predicted a turnout of 600,000 to 700,000 voters.

Even in the 5th Congressional District, which featured a half dozen legitimate candidates and relentless TV and radio ads, only 30 percent of registered voters showed up.

Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett finished first and second, respectively, in the 5th District and will meet in the runoff in a race that could be dominated more by the candidates' personalities than differences on issues. Both candidates will be waving the conservative banner.

The winner will face Dr. David Hunter, a newcomer who easily defeated Bert Smith, the 2004 Democratic nominee in the district that Istook is giving up to run for governor.

Fallin finished with almost 35 percent to Cornett's 24 percent. Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode outspent Cornett 4-1 but got only 19 percent. Bode put $345,000 into her campaign.

Democrats did not dominate the headlines, but were feeling better after the primary as they had a turnout slightly better than Republicans. That was the case even though Henry faced only token opposition, getting 86 percent of the vote. The 226,000 votes he received more than doubled Istook's total.

If Henry can generate enthusiasm for the general election, Democrats think they have a shot at keeping control of the Senate and picking up some seats in the Republican House.

Providing ``a sense of hope, a sense of optimism'' has been a large part of Henry's success, Copeland said. ``I think people see the governor providing leadership that they can rally around. If that becomes generalized, then I think it could be an opportunity for Democrats to do well.''

The Senate breakdown is currently 25 Democrats and 23 Republicans, but seven Democrats are term-limited this year, giving the GOP a good chance to break through and gain control of the legislative body for the first time in state history.

About a dozen House and Senate races will be on the runoff ballot.

Many feel massive negative campaigning in the GOP race for lieutenant governor between state Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, and House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, may have turned off some voters. Hiett got 43 percent, but was forced into a runoff with Pruitt when Sen. Nancy Riley got 23 percent. Pruitt got 34 percent.

Copeland said negative campaigning has been shown to be effective in the past when it got voters riled up over one issue or another. But if they are more depressed than angry, he said such campaigns can have an opposite effect.

``When voters are depressed, the negativism just adds to the depression and makes them less likely to do something about it.''

In the race for the Democratic nomination, veteran Rep. Jari Askins got 40 percent, but former congressional aid Pete Regan, a new face on the campaign trail, came on strong to finish in a runoff with 29 percent.

With the active support of such well known Oklahomans as former Gov. George Nigh and former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer, Regan overtook another veteran lawmaker, Cal Hobson, who got 18 percent.