Sooner or Later in Okla.

AG Edmondson About To Reveal Senate Plans

Posted October 21, 2003 at 6:24pm

Oklahoma Democrats expect to know as soon as today, Friday at the latest, whether state Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) will run for Senate next year and force a costly primary that could diminish the party’s chances in the open-seat race to succeed Sen. Don Nickles (R).

Edmondson, who is well-respected and has high name-identification after serving as the state’s top cop for nine years, was still weighing his options late Tuesday, sources said, armed with the results of a recent poll conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, of Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates. Democratic sources indicated they believed the attorney general was leaning toward a run.

Rep. Brad Carson became the first Democrat to enter the 2004 Senate race last week, after the two-term lawmaker spent the past several months preparing for the possibility that Nickles would announce his retirement by the end of the year. State Treasurer Robert Butkin (D), another potential Senate candidate, announced last week that he would not run.

Edmondson had been expected to announce his decision Tuesday, but a previously-reported news conference never materialized, leaving both state and national Democrats at a loss for predicting what he will ultimately decide.

Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Jay Parmley convened a meeting with Carson and Edmondson a week ago Monday, before Carson officially entered the race, and he said Tuesday that he had not talked to the attorney general since.

“I think Drew is absolutely undecided,” Parmley said. “Because knowing him I think if he had decided he was going to run, he would have said it already. And if he had decided not to run, he would have said it already. There’s no potential political benefit to him waiting. I just know Drew too well to know this isn’t a mind game.”

Democratic leaders have publicly expressed their desire to avoid a financially draining primary battle, although Parmley maintained that they have not brought to bear the same type of direct pressure that helped to clear the Republican primary field for Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, the Senate candidate the state’s GOP establishment has coalesced behind.

Parmley said he believed Edmondson’s decision would be his and only his.

“Any pressure that has come to bear is based upon Carson’s work in the past six to eight months,” Parmley said. “It’s a different kind of pressure. It’s a discussion.”

The only publicly-released survey testing the potential Democratic primary matchup, was a GOP poll that showed Edmondson leading Carson 42 percent to 36 percent. Much of Edmondson’s lead, however, can be ascribed to superior name recognition; he was known by 92 percent of those tested, while Carson was recognized by 63 percent.

The survey was done by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, the state’s leading Republican political firm.

Meanwhile, Carson’s due diligence in rounding up early support appears to be paying some dividends in Washington.

Carson began aggressively making the rounds here last week following Nickles’ retirement announcement, meeting with Democratic leaders whose support he had already been lining up.

Specifically, Carson has looked for help from Senate Democrats to gain a clear field for the nomination. After emerging from a meeting with Carson in his office in the Capitol last week, Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Carson a “fine young man.”

“We’re hopeful that there’s not a bitter primary,” Reid said. “He’s given me a few assignments, and I’m going to follow up on them.”

But back in Oklahoma, Parmley characterized his meeting with the two would-be candidate’s as amicable and he maintained that it was not an effort to pressure Edmondson to stay out of the race. Parmley said either Edmondson or Carson would be a strong nominee.

“I laid out what I thought the pros and cons are of a primary,” he recalled. “[I said] let’s look at this: What happens if we have a bloody primary? Can we win? I absolutely believe we can win.”

Republicans averted a major primary showdown when Rep. Ernest Istook (R) unexpectedly announced that he would not run for Nickles’ seat, shortly after the retirement announcement. However, he did not immediately endorse Humphreys, who is being backed by Nickles and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Istook maintains that he was not pressured out of the race

State Rep. Mike Fair (R) is still likely to run in the primary, although Humphreys is considered a lock for the party’s nomination.

Members of the Edmondson family have been strong supporters of Carson in the past, and they were early backers of his Congressional primary bid in 2000.

His father, Ed Edmondson, once held the eastern Oklahoma seat Carson now represents, and his uncle, James, held a U.S. Senate seat.

Earlier this year Carson introduced a bill in the House to designate the federal courthouse in Muskogee, Okla., as the Ed Edmondson United States Courthouse.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.