Sooner State bucks national anti-incumbent surge in legislative races

Oklahoma is bucking a national surge in successful challenges of state legislative incumbents, a comprehensive national analysis shows.

Only one state incumbent facing a primary challenger, state Rep. Guy Liebmann of Oklahoma City, lost in the June primary.

Eleven other incumbents with primary foes prevailed, most of them comfortably. While a couple of races were close calls, only 8.33 percent of challenges to legislative incumbents in the Sooner State were successful.

There are eight legislative runoffs determining party nominees next Tuesday, August 28, but none involves an incumbent.

Geoff Pallay (whose analyses appear regularly updated on,) monitors legislative races in all 50 states. He says that in 2012 Republican voters and conservative groups have led a notable increase in successful challenges to incumbent legislators.
Pallay told CapitolBeatOK, “While the Oklahoma exception is notable, the data nationally indicates that primaries are becoming the new battle ground for state legislative races. Candidates and voters both are realizing that a primary is the place to challenge an incumbent, rather than in the general election.”

To be clear, most incumbents are surviving, but the rate of successful challenges has jumped nationwide.

Pallay’s analysis, updated yesterday, found a total of 155 legislative incumbents have been defeated – 57 Democrats and 98 Republicans. Nationwide, the legislative incumbent loss percentage, through July 26, was 14.8 percent. Through this week’s analysis, that percentage has increased to almost 20 percent.

The most dramatic state results have come in Kansas, where 53 incumbents, out of a total of 129, faced primaries. Twenty of the challengers succeeded.

Pallay’s full analysis – detailed through July with some additional information through this week — is available online here.
In all, 105 Oklahoma legislative incumbents stood for reelection, and only a dozen faced primary opposition.

Post-primary analysis from a diverse group of commentators hinted that the low success rate for challengers does not mean the “Tea Party” movement is moribund in Oklahoma, but that the Republican mainstream has thus far responded effectively to challenges from the Right
According to state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax, 60 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties will have elections on August 28. Federal, state or county office runoffs will be held in 41 counties; another 19 counties have only local elections. Seventeen counties in the state have no elections on Tuesday.

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