Hundreds of political hopefuls are expected to descend upon the state Capitol to add their names to the ballot for dozens of public offices whose terms are about to end, including more open statewide positions than at any time in the past 16 years.
Officeholders who are term-limited or have announced they are retiring or running for higher office will not seek re-election for governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, superintendent of schools and attorney general in this year’s round of elections.
All of the departing statewide officials are Democrats who will take the political power of their incumbency with them, giving Republican candidates a better chance of winning each of the open seats.
“If there’s ever a year that it could happen, this is the year,” said Gary Jones, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
Republican success in taking control of the Legislature over the past six years has encouraged the party to aggressively pursue statewide races. Republicans took control of the state House in 2004 for the first time in 80 years and seized control of the Senate for the first time ever in 2008.
All 101 seats in the Oklahoma House and 24 seats in the 48-member Senate are up for election in 2010. Jones said the GOP hopes to solidify its majority status in both chambers by targeting the open seats of term-limited lawmakers or those running for other offices.
“I think it’s going to be a good year for Republicans,” Jones said.
The focus for Democrats is holding on to the state’s top job after Democratic Gov. Brad Henry leaves office after eight years due to term limits.
“Our top priority is keeping the governor's mansion blue,” said Karina Henderson, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “It’s rough to be losing as many incumbents as we are this year.”
In addition to Henry, four other Democratic statewide officeholders are not seeking re-election: Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, who is stepping down after one four-year term to run for governor; Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is leaving after 16 years to run for governor; Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett, who is retiring after 20 years; and Treasurer Scott Meacham, who is leaving after one full term.
Not since 1994 have as many statewide seats been open.
Henderson said the mood of voters and their demand for change from the status quo means Democratic candidates may not be as successful in the Nov. 2 general election as they were in 2006, when Democrats dominated Oklahoma's statewide offices.
“I don’t think we're going to hold on to as many seats,” Henderson said. “Nothing’s a foregone conclusion, but we're preparing for the worst. It's a scary scenario.”
U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin’s decision to seek the Republican nomination for governor touched off a free-for-all to succeed her as at least nine candidates, six Republicans, two Democrats and an independent, have announced plans to seek the office that represents central Oklahoma including Oklahoma City.
Fallin, a former lieutenant governor, served two two-year terms in Congress. She will face state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso in the July 27 primary election for the Republican nomination for governor.
Oklahoma’s four other sitting congressmen and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn are all seeking re-election. Coburn, a Republican seeking a second six-year term, has not drawn a challenger from either party.
U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, the only Democrat in Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, has drawn a primary challenger in state Sen. Jim Wilson of Tahlequah. At least five Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination for the seat that represents eastern Oklahoma.