OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A conservative Republican state senator who rode a tea party wave four years ago that nearly landed him in a primary runoff with Gov. Mary Fallin will face some added challenges in 2014, including dampened tea party enthusiasm and a popular incumbent governor.
Randy Brogdon announced his candidacy through social media on Christmas Day, setting up a potential rematch against Fallin, who won 55 percent of the vote over Brogdon and two lesser-known candidates in the 2010 GOP primary. But that was at the height of tea party enthusiasm in Oklahoma, when rallies at the state Capitol drew thousands of energized conservative voters and provided a readymade audience for Brogdon’s anti-government message.
Fallin will enjoy the power of incumbency in the race for the governor’s seat in 2014, and she has provided few openings during her first term in office for a right-wing challenger to exploit.
“It’s hard to get everybody hyped up again and worked up to that fever pitch, especially against a conservative incumbent governor who has not gotten in the way of any of the state’s rights efforts that have been coming out of the state legislature or the attorney general’s office,” said Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma who closely followed Oklahoma’s 2010 gubernatorial race.
“It’s really rare to see an incumbent governor get knocked off in the primary unless they’ve got troubles, and Mary Fallin just doesn’t have troubles right now, at least as far as we can tell.”
But for many conservative grassroots activists who think Fallin is too moderate or too cozy with big business, Brogdon’s foray into the race is a welcome one.
Charlie Meadows, whose Oklahoma Conservative PAC has been a longtime fixture of the state GOP’s right wing, called Brogdon’s announcement a “wonderful Christmas gift.”
“He gives the citizens the opportunity to make a choice between someone who is really a conservative game-changer versus someone who is moderately conservative, kind of nibbles around the edges of conservatism, and really doesn’t make much difference,” said Meadows, a frequent critic of Fallin.
Brogdon, 60, owned a heating and air conditioning company in Owasso, a conservative Tulsa suburb, when he was first elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2002. A fierce critic of what he claimed was excessive spending by a bloated state government, Brogdon took a $99,000-a-year state job with the newly elected Republican Insurance Commissioner, boosting Brogdon’s monthly retirement benefit by more than 50 percent.
Several conservative activists say Brogdon’s decision to spend three years as a state bureaucrat likely has hurt his credibility among Republican primary voters.
“I personally didn’t care for that,” said Jamison Faught, a GOP activist and the chairman of the Muskogee County Tea Party. “There are a lot of people who aren’t very happy with that situation.”
Brogdon also drew some negative attention to his campaign when he told The Associated Press in 2010 that he supported the creation of a state militia to protect the state against an overreaching federal government. After a backlash, Brogdon retreated from that position and suggested he was referring to a National Guard-type unit to aid the state during civil emergencies.
And while Faught said Brogdon’s popularity has dwindled since 2010, he said Brogdon still remains well-liked among the party faithful.
“He does, or at least he did, have a very large grassroots network,” Faught said. “He’ll have a lot of folks who can work for him, but it won’t be enough to overcome Fallin, her popularity and her money.”
Fallin reported having more than $1.2 million in cash on hand at the end of the last reporting cycle on Sept. 30. Brogdon filed a statement of organization Friday with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission that allows him to begin raising money.
Rush Springs state Rep. Joe Dorman and R.J. Harris of Norman both have indicated plans to run for the Democratic nomination.