Recent election night coverage (June 26, 2012) on The Oklahoma Network (OETA) included a panel of three analysts who “gnawed the bone” as election results slowly trickled in.
“Tea Party” conservative Republicans took a determined run at 11 state legislative incumbents, but only Rep. Guy Liebmann of Oklahoma City lost. The big surprise of the night was the victory of John Bridenstine over incumbent U.S. Rep. John Sullivan in Tulsa's District One.
In the first segment, on a night with many problems in gaining results from the state Election Board, the group talked about low turnout, the role of the Tea Party and the power of incumbency. Patrick B. McGuigan of CapitolBeatOK said Democrats had scattered primaries, including in Oklahoma City's House District 88, but that for the most part incumbents were easily reelected.
Term limits are having an effect in pressing legislative turnover, yet still, as Arnold Hamilton of The Oklahoman Observer noted, there were 61 Oklahoma legislative incumbents who drew no challengers. As for the Tea Party's role, commentator Larry Stein said it is “an amalgamation” of Republicans, Democrats and Independents concerned with the size of government and spending.
McGuigan believes Tea Party activist intensity will continue to effect the Republican party, even though only one House GOP incumbent was headed for defeat. Concerning Republican primaries that dominated the night's news – and Hamilton's observation that the Tea Party is pushing the GOP further and further toward conservatism – McGuigan recalled Ronald Reagan's expression from 1980: “Sometimes the right hand doesn't know what the far right hand is doing.”
Hamilton said that even in 2012 “all politics are local” – and wondered if the state should consider an open system rather than limiting primaries to members of the two parties. Stein said the closed system is best, assuring participants are actually members of the party whose nominee is being chosen.
McGuigan noted that a serious-looking effort to provide a third option, the “Americans Elect” party – had not had much impact this year, despite doing the hard work needed to secure a ballot line.
An OETA viewer, Melissa from Tulsa, asked how important endorsements are in Oklahoma politics. McGuigan said they seemed to be pretty effective, as most of Governor Mary Fallin's choices were winning. Hamilton thinks the significance of endorsements may be overstated, although he agreed Gov. Fallin is popular. As computer problems continued to delay the night's results, the trio engaged Sands in a discussion of voter identification requirements now in place in Oklahoma. Hamilton said fraud is not really a problem, while Stein said he believes ballot integrity is crucial to the election process.
In the wrap-up of their three-part primary night sequence, the trio of analysts reflected on results. McGuigan reported that the state election board disclosed a returns mix-up was due to a “lock-up” when results were “imported” into the online results. The night's biggest surprise, panelists agreed, was Bridenstine's victory over Rep. Sullivan.
The Senate battle in Edmond between Sen. Clark Jolley and Rev. Paul Blair was a fight between local “icons,” with Jolley headed to victory. Hamilton observed that Sen. Brian Crain (who ultimately won) faced a tough Tea Party challenge, as well.
The role of “big money” was scrutinzed, including the involvement of trial lawyers in supporting some challengers to GOP incumbents was a focus of discussion, as well.
McGuigan quarreled with the trial lawyers' use of James Madison's name in support of open-ended litigation. Commentator Larry Stein observed the attorneys were gravitating toward GOP candidates because “they've got nowhere else to go.” McGuigan said some races reflected historic tensions on the Right between “majoritarians” and “libertarians.”
NOTE: Rodely, a veteran radio journalist and member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, moderates the weekly “Capitol Report” podcast featuring CapitolBeatOK's Pat McGuigan and Peter J. Rudy of Oklahoma Watchdog.