Wins give Democrats rea­son to be op­ti­mistic

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION -

AL­THOUGH the re­sults of two races cer­tainly don’t con­sti­tute a trend, the Ok­la­homa Demo­cratic Party had rea­son to cheer last week as it saw both its can­di­dates win spe­cial elec­tions for seats in the Leg­is­la­ture. Repub­li­cans should take note.

In south Ok­la­homa City, immigration at­tor­ney Michael Brooks won with 54.6 per­cent of the vote in his race against Repub­li­can Joe Grif­fin for the Se­nate Dis­trict 44 seat. In Tulsa, Demo­crat Karen Gad­dis, a re­tired teacher, re­ceived 52.3 per­cent to de­feat Tressa Nun­ley for the House Dis­trict 75 seat.

No­tably, th­ese elec­tions were needed be­cause the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pants, both Repub­li­cans, left of­fice amid scan­dal. Ralph Shortey re­signed from the Se­nate in March shortly af­ter be­ing ac­cused in a child pros­ti­tu­tion case in­volv­ing a 17-year-old boy. Gad­dis won the seat va­cated in Fe­bru­ary by Dan Kirby, who faced the prospect of be­ing ex­pelled by fel­low House mem­bers af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into two sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints against him.

The Repub­li­can can­di­dates in th­ese two races cer­tainly weren’t helped by the residue of those scan­dals. Such events make it tough for the in­cum­bent party — re­call that a Demo­crat won the race for the Se­nate seat va­cated by Owasso Repub­li­can Rick Brink­ley, who re­signed in 2015 fol­low­ing an em­bez­zle­ment con­vic­tion.

An­other ad­van­tage for last week’s win­ners is that they each ran in the pre­vi­ous gen­eral elec­tion — Brooks lost to Shortey in 2014, and Gad­dis sought the Dis­trict 75 seat in Novem­ber. This no doubt helped with their name recog­ni­tion among vot­ers, and with their cam­paign in­fra­struc­ture. They also had the chance to make the ar­gu­ment that they would have been the bet­ter choice the last time around, given what tran­spired.

Brooks and Gad­dis also worked hard for their vic­to­ries, and that can­not be over­looked. Par­tic­u­larly in spe­cial elec­tions, where turnout is of­ten much lower than in a gen­eral elec­tion, re­tail pol­i­tics — knock­ing on doors and shak­ing hands — can go a long way.

Did Pres­i­dent Trump im­pact the re­sults? Per­haps. Long­time Repub­li­can poll­ster Pat McFer­ron noted that just as for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama mo­ti­vated GOP ac­tivists dur­ing his time in the White House, Demo­cratic ac­tivists here and else­where are amped up by Trump.

“I don’t think th­ese races were na­tion­al­ized among vot­ers, but I do think the cam­paign ac­tiv­ity (vol­un­teers, in­ten­sity, etc.) did swing be­cause of the na­tional dy­namic,” McFer­ron said in an email.

It’s worth not­ing that in late 2015 and early 2016, Democrats picked up two seats in the Leg­is­la­ture in spe­cial elec­tions — the Brink­ley seat, and the House Dis­trict 85 seat that be­came open due to the death of Rep. David Dank — but Democrats then lost ground in the House and Se­nate in the 2016 elec­tions. And in early May of this year, a Repub­li­can won a spe­cial elec­tion to fill a va­cated House seat. So it would be a mis­take to read too much into last week’s re­sults.

On the other hand, Ok­la­homans are frus­trated with state gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly with much of the bum­bling dis­played this year by the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated Leg­is­la­ture. Four other spe­cial elec­tions in the months ahead should pro­vide a clearer in­di­ca­tion of whether vot­ers are ready to weaken that dom­i­na­tion just a bit.

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