Primary decisions: Some races will end in primary or runoff

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 23-Jul-2010

Most contested elections are decided in November, but a cluster of Oklahoma races this year will be settled in primary (or perhaps runoff) balloting.

Incumbent Republican Dana Murphy, who defeated Jim Roth in a close race to finish an unexpired term at the Corporation Commission two years ago, is heavily favored to defeat Tod Yeager. She is likely to retain her job at the agency. No Democrat filed, so Tuesday’s election will determine the victor.

Murphy’s rise to such a political strong position is one of the most intriguing political stories in recent state history. In 2002, she narrowly lost a bitterly contested nomination fight against Jeff Cloud, who went on to win the post and is now her colleague at the commission.

Two years ago, seeking to finish the remainder of former Commissioner Denise Bode’s term, Murphy waged a spirited race against Roth, an appointed incumbent at the utility-regulating agency and two-time winner in county commission races in the state’s most populated county. While the race was close in Oklahoma County itself, Murphy won strong enough statewide to assure victory.

At the Commission, which regulates the vital state energy industry, as well as telecommunications, Murphy has quickly developed a reputation for hard work and thorough knowledge of salient issues.

From her challenging start in elected public service, she has emerged as a heavily favored incumbent. In her daily email to supporters for today (Friday, July 23) she reflected on her mother’s upcoming birthday (July 26), a celebration she intends to continue the next day with a primary victory that means re-election.

Commenting on why she was campaigning so hard when victory seems assured, Murphy said, “I believe I had to pay my dues and earn my way, not just to get here, but to stay here on the job as Corporation Commissioner.  I was raised to give my best and bring my A-game.”

When she filed for re-election in June, Commissioner Murphy told CapitolBeatOK, “This is the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. Yet, it is one of the most rewarding. It includes the most complicated issues I have ever dealt with. Common sense is important, along with technical competence. The support I’ve received is a sign that the people who watch the work we do at the Commission believe that I come prepared to work hard every day.”

While her opponent has had no discernible fundraising activity or communications with the news media, Murphy had built through yesterday a (July 22), a strong warchest of $407,810 to finance a major advertising presence in state newspapers and radio.

In the Fourth Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole is a prohibitive favorite over R.J. Harris in the Republican primary – which will decide the election because no Democrat filed.

Rep. Cole is a national Republican leader who is, among other things, known for his strong advocacy for the nation of Israel. Assuming he is reelected as expected on Tuesday, he will campaign for Republican candidates nationwide.

In a lengthy exchange with Capitol reporters this spring, Cole said he expected 2010 would be “a great year to be a Republican.” He predicted “unbelievable gains” for Republicans in Congress.

If the Grand Old Party regains control of the U.S. House, Cole is a likely candidate for top leadership.

R.J. Harris, Cole’s primary foe, visited briefly with CapitolBeatOK at the time he filed for the election, saying he considered himself a constitutional conservative. In that conversation, he assailed Rep. Cole’s support of the 2008 federal bank bailout.

A military veteran, Harris told the Associated Press this week he hoped for 30 percent or higher support in the July 27 primary.

For the state legislature, primaries are in fact election day in a few races, including three Senate contests involving each of the major parties.

In the District 24 state Senate race for the seat now held by Anthony Sykes, the withdrawal of two Democrats has assured that one way or another Republicans will control the state Senate after November’s election.

Democrat John Branum of Beaverton stepped aside from the race against Sykes on June 11, then Susan Hardy Brooks of Tuttle dropped her primary race on June 28. Sen. Sykes still faces a July 27 primary challenge from Linda Molsbee of Newcastle – the winner will be the district’s senator for the next four years.

Another all-Republican election is the Senate District 28 (Seminole and Lincoln, and a corner of Oklahoma, counties) primary between incumbent Harry Coates and challenger Tim Clem. Sen. Coates was active in the 2001 right-to-work campaign, but has drawn the ire of some active conservatives including Charlie Meadows of the Oklahoma Conservative PAC.

Coates has cordial relations with some Democratic senators. He is a critic of controversial state Rep. Randy Terrill, questioning the wisdom of House Bill 1804 and other Terrill agenda items.

Clem has run a conservative campaign against Coates’ nuanced voting record. Clem’s campaign has not fashioned a visible broadcast advertising presence, but has circulated “mailers.” Coates has been active in the mail and told CapitolBeatOK he would have a strong late broadcast advertising surge.

In east Oklahoma City, Democrats have an election all to themselves as state Sen. Connie Johnson faces three opponents: Mark P. Temple, Steven Davis and Clyde Madden. Madden is a frequent candidate for public office, while Davis and Temple are newcomers who have, like Johnson, flooded east side streets and vacant lots with campaign signs.

Johnson is an ardent liberal who has worked to build bridges with prominent Republicans on some issues.

In Tuesday’s primary, she is considered the favorite, but Temple could force a runoff. His family is well-regarded for decades of funeral home service around the city area.