OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Democrats were hoping to maintain their recent momentum as polls opened Tuesday for special elections to fill two vacant seats in Oklahoma Senate and one in the state House that had been held by Republicans.
It won’t be easy. Oklahoma is among the most conservative states in the U.S. and there are nearly twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, where polls will stay open until 7 p.m.
But the elections come at a time of voter frustration over years of state budget shortfalls and recent scandals that led to the resignation of Republican incumbents. And they follow last week’s sweeping Democratic victories in Virginia, in which the party comfortably won the governor’s race and fielded challengers who unseated several Republican incumbents in state House races. The Democrats’ success in Virginia has them hoping for even bigger wins in next year’s nationwide midterm elections.
FILE- In this June 8, 2017, file photo, Anna Langthorn, chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, speaks during an interview at state party headquarters in Oklahoma City. The recent success of Democrats in deep-red Oklahoma amid continuing state budget problems will be put to a further test in special elections for three previously Republican-held state legislative seats. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Although Republicans hold every statewide elected office in Oklahoma and enjoy super majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have found particular success in special elections, even in strongly Republican districts.
“My personal theory is that during special elections, we have a better opportunity to connect with voters and talk to them about local issues,” said Anna Langthorn, the new chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.
Democrats already have won three GOP-held seats in special elections this year and they nearly won a fourth in a heavily Republican district in Seminole County.
Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard acknowledges the gains but suggests they have more to do with GOP apathy than a shift in ideology among the state’s electorate.
“Republicans are much more laid back and take these seats for granted,” Pollard said. “Democrats are finding themselves in the position that Republicans were in 15 or 20 years ago, they have a cause to fight for.
“They are motivated to try and take their state back.”
The seats being contested in Tuesday’s election include one in southern Oklahoma City held by former Republican state Sen. Kyle Loveless, who resigned in April and later pleaded guilty to embezzling campaign funds. The other seats up for grabs include a state House seat in Broken Arrow that had been held by Republican state Rep. David Brumbaugh, who died while in office, and a state Senate seat in suburban Tulsa where state Sen. Dan Newberry is stepping down to pursue a private-sector career opportunity.
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FILE- In this Oct. 12, 2015 file photo, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Republican Party Pam Pollard poses for a photo at state party headquarters in Oklahoma City. The recent success of Democrats in deep-red Oklahoma amid continuing state budget problems will be put to a further test in special elections for three previously Republican-held state legislative seats. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
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