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Oklahoman

Democrats Get a Grip on State's Reins
2002-11-07

IN A STATE that's been trending Republican in recent elections, Oklahoma voters showed Tuesday that they still like to cozy up with Democrats.

A Republican governor will be replaced by a Democrat. The Legislature will remain in Democratic control. Same goes for the offices of attorney general, insurance commissioner, superintendent of schools, treasurer and state auditor.

Brad Henry's phenomenal march to victory will culminate in January when he moves into the governor's mansion. His appeal to voters was multi-faceted and certainly included his wife and daughters campaigning by his side.

He will assume office without the support of a majority of voters in Tuesday's general election. This was assured by the presence of an independent candidate with far more money than victory prospects. Henry no doubt benefited from the drain of votes to Gary Richardson, votes that would otherwise have gone to Republican Steve Largent.

Henry's strong rural showing shows he also benefited from being on the same ballot as the anti-cockfighting initiative. The measure was approved, but many ban opponents turned out at the polls and voted for Henry. Another factor was the perception that Largent is too much like Gov. Frank Keating.

Lest anyone believe Henry won solely due to external circumstances, we remind readers that he came from behind in the Democratic runoff and beat a man who was virtually anointed as the nominee by the party's elite.

No, Henry's victory -- narrow as it was -- isn't entirely a matter of circumstances. He earned the governorship with his appeal and message. He faces enormous challenges in office, but his rise from a relatively unknown state senator to the next governor has us convinced that he's up for the job.

Open seats for governor and the 4th Congressional District enlivened an election season that ended, predictably, with the re-election of most current officeholders. The incumbent sweep means the state's seven- member congressional delegation still includes only one Democrat.

Tom Cole's convincing victory in the open 4th District was one of two races in which has-been Democrats tried to make a comeback and were told to go back from whence they came. The other race was for the U.S. Senate, which incumbent Republican Jim Inhofe easily won. Former Gov. David Walters spent the past two years telling voters how out of touch Inhofe was with their values. Walters got an embarrassing 36 percent of the vote.

The cockfighting ban passed with a lower margin of victory than most had predicted. Thankfully, a related state question on signature requirements for certain initiative petitions was defeated. A perplexing development was the sound defeat of State Question 701, a valuable housekeeping tool that nobody seemed to oppose during the campaign.

Another surprise was the narrow victory of Republican Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau Wynn in her bid for a third term. An obscure legislator running a low-profile campaign almost unseated her.

Returning to office after trouncing his opponent will be Attorney General Drew Edmondson. He survived two political blunders during his current term and swamped his Republican challenger.

Tuesday's election proves that conservative to moderate Democrats still have an appeal in a state that once filled many an office in the Democratic primary. And Henry proved that being the front-runner or having the most campaign cash doesn't always ensure victory.