SOUTHWEST: Oklahoma Senate Race Leads List of Big Changes Afoot in a Region Made Volatile by Redistricting

Posted May 13, 2004 at 2:20pm

ARIZONA
Filing deadline: June 9
Primary: Sept. 7

Senate
Incumbent: John McCain (R)
3rd term (69 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Democrats openly admit they have bypassed a serious challenge to McCain, choosing instead to focus party resources on knocking off Sen. Jon Kyl (R) in 2006.

Math teacher Stuart Starky is the Democratic sacrificial lamb. Starky ran a similarly quixotic challenge to now-deceased Rep. Bob Stump (R) in 2002.

The Arizona Senator ended March with $1.1 million in the bank.

House
1st district
Incumbent: Rick Renzi (R)
1st term (49 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Democrats have handed their nomination to former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt on a silver platter in hopes of avoiding the mistakes of last cycle, when Renzi won the newly created northeastern Arizona seat.

In 2002, Democrats hosted a very competitive primary with their eventual nominee hampered by charges of past tax liens and dissatisfied business partners. In spite of those problems, Renzi only won with 49 percent.

Seeking to avoid that scenario, Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) and national Democrats made clear early on that Babbitt was their preferred candidate, eventually clearing the field.

After an extremely slow start to his campaign, Babbitt, brother of former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D), put together a solid first fundraising quarter.

He reported raising $257,000 at the end of March with $182,000 on hand.

By contrast, Renzi raised $207,000 with $527,000 in the bank.

Renzi’s coffers have been filled by fundraisers from a number of the top leaders in the Republican Party, including Vice President Cheney and Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.).

Babbitt is expected to reap the vast majority of a fundraiser featuring Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on May 26 that is ostensibly to benefit the state party.

The candidates have yet to engage each other, though Babbitt begins the race behind.

A Northern Arizona University poll conducted in early April had Renzi up 49 percent to 38 percent.

The demographics of the district point to a close race.

Created during the 2001 redistricting, the 1st district encompasses a massive, sparsely populated section of the state that includes a number of farmers and ranchers as well as a large American Indian population. It is larger than the state of Pennsylvania.

President Bush won a 5-point victory there in 2000, but Democrats have a registration advantage.

Given the swing nature of the seat, Renzi’s narrow win in 2002 and the intense focus of both the state and national Democratic parties, this race should be very close.

2nd district
Incumbent: Trent Franks (R)
1st term (60 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Franks faces a serious primary challenge from radio executive Rick Murphy (R) in this western Arizona district.

Murphy has pledged to spend $1 million of his own money on the race and has already laid out $250,000 in personal funds.

His campaign also got a boost in late April by securing the endorsement of former state Attorney General Grant Woods (R).

An oil and gas executive before winning the seat in 2002, Franks gave $300,000 in that race and has said he is willing to give his campaign more money this time.

Murphy has termed Franks the “accidental Congressman,” referring to his victory in a crowded Republican field to replace retiring Rep. Bob Stump (R), who later died.

The supposed frontrunners in that race were Stump Chief of Staff Lisa Atkins (R) and Peoria Mayor John Keegan (R).

Franks, however, won the race, taking 28 percent of the vote to eke out a 797-vote margin over Atkins. He easily won the general election in this strongly Republican district.

If Murphy makes good on his promise to donate $1 million to the race, he is instantly formidable but at this point is largely unknown.

Franks did not win by a large margin in the 2002 Republican primary, but that race showed that his political appeal can be underestimated. The power of incumbency makes Franks the favorite, but don’t count Murphy out.

NEW MEXICO
Filing deadline: passed
Primary: June 1

House
1st district
Incumbent: Heather Wilson (R)
4th term (55 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

On paper, this Albuquerque-based seat is a tossup. But Republicans have held it for more than 30 years — to the everlasting frustration of Democrats.

Wilson, who won her first three elections with 45 percent, 48 percent and 50 percent, seems a little less vulnerable now. As the first female veteran elected to Congress and as the mother of young children, she has a solid image for the district despite a voting record that is to the right of most of her constituents. And her fundraising prowess remains a wonder: She was sitting on more than $850,000 as of March 31.

Democrats are hoping that their 2002 nominee, state Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, proves to be a stronger candidate this time. Romero has kept up a decent fundraising clip, having banked $305,000, and says he will be a tougher, more disciplined challenger the second time around.

He is also counting on extra help from Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who has only been too happy to provide it. Romero must first get through a Democratic primary with emergency room physician Miles Nelson, which he is expected to win. Nelson began a TV ad blitz earlier this month.

2nd district
Incumbent: Steve Pearce (R)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Pearce handily won what was thought to be a fairly evenly matched open-seat race two years ago, and he starts as the favorite now.

Democrats have high hopes for former state Rep. Gary King, son of former three-term Gov. Bruce King (D). Gary King moved into the 2nd district to run for the seat, but the Kings — ranchers with lots of property and long political tentacles — have plenty of history in the district.

Before King can focus on Pearce, he must first defeat Democratic primary opponent Jeff Steinborn, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) who has political roots of his own: His father is a former mayor of Las Cruces, the biggest city in the district.

While King and Steinborn fight it out in the primary, Pearce is flush with cash, banking $722,000 as of March 31.

With all the money the national parties will be dumping into New Mexico this year, this could still be a competitive general election, but Pearce is in a pretty comfortable position right now.

OKLAHOMA
Filing deadline: June 23
Primary: July 27
Runoff: Aug. 24

Senate
Open seat: Don Nickles (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

After initially clearing the field for former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, Republicans in Oklahoma now find themselves facing a likely bruising and uncertain three-way primary in a race where they had been given the early edge.

Humphreys, who has the backing of Nickles, Sen. James Inhofe (R) and much of the party establishment in the state, will face former Rep. Tom Coburn and state Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony in the GOP primary.

Coburn and Anthony have both set the stage to run “outsider” campaigns, although Coburn is seen as the challenger with the heft to successfully make that case to voters.

During his six-year tenure in the House, Coburn compiled a conservative voting record although he often found himself at odds with the GOP leadership. Last year he published a book, “Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders.”

While Humphreys has yet to live up to his early billing as the inevitable nominee, national strategists still believe he would be the party’s strongest candidate against Carson. They say Humphreys may be the ultimate beneficiary if Anthony can siphon off enough support from Coburn and effectively split the movement conservative base. Anthony is the longest-serving Republican elected statewide.

Meanwhile, Rep. Brad Carson, the lone Democrat in the Sooner State delegation, is living up to his billing as one of the national party’s best recruits this cycle.

Carson’s fundraising has been impressive so far. In the first quarter he outraised all other candidates in the race, taking in $718,000. He ended March with $1.5 million in the bank, compared with $742,000 for Humphreys.

Coburn, who officially entered the race in early March, posted just $38,000. His fundraising would be greatly boosted if he earns the endorsement of the conservative, anti-tax Club for Growth. Coburn had a close relationship with the organization while he was in Congress and its president encouraged him to enter the race.

A Tulsa World poll taken in late March and early April showed Coburn leading in the primary, taking 34 percent to 22 percent for Humphreys and 12 percent for Anthony.

The same poll also showed Carson and Coburn in a statistical dead heat in a general election matchup. Carson got 37 percent and Coburn got 35 percent, with 28 percent of voters still undecided. An earlier poll had shown Carson leading Humphreys by 11 points in a general election contest.

If Coburn wins the nomination, it would set up a showdown in the Democratic-leaning eastern Oklahoma base that both men have represented.

While Oklahoma is reliably Republican in presidential elections, it is much more Democratic on the state level and just elected a Democratic governor in 2002.

Once considered a relatively easy seat for Republicans to hold, Democrats have a slight advantage as this race sits firmly in the tossup column six months before Election Day.

House
2nd district
Open seat: Brad Carson (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Likely Democratic

State Rep. Dan Boren (D) is widely perceived to be the frontrunner in the race to succeed Carson, although little attention has been paid so far to the eastern Oklahoma contest. Still, he may be in for more of a primary battle than once expected.

Boren, the son of former Sen. David Boren (D), faces former District Attorney Kalyn Free and former state Rep. Lloyd Fields in the primary.

Boren’s home and most of his state House district fall within the district lines of the neighboring 5th district, but his family name and deep roots in the area should minimize the residency issue.

Boren, 30, was first elected to the Legislature in 2002. His father, also a one-term former governor, served in the Senate from 1979 to 1994. Dan Boren’s grandfather, former Rep. Lyle Boren (D), represented portions of what is now the 2nd district when he served in the House from 1937 to 1947.

As of March 31, Boren had more than $500,000 in campaign cash, while Free showed $260,000 in the bank.

Putting his political connections to work, Boren has raised more than $110,000 from political action committees, quite a take for an open-seat House candidate.

Free, meanwhile, is expected to get a fundraising boost from the endorsement of EMILY’s List, which helps fund female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights. She has also scored some key labor endorsements, including AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers.

Free, a former Department of Justice staffer and member of the Choctaw Indian Nation, had planned to run for the House in 2002, until redistricting pitted her against Carson.

This district, which includes most of eastern Oklahoma and the area known as Little Dixie, was improved for Democrats during last cycle’s redrawing of Congressional lines, and Republicans do not expect to contest the seat in November.

Commercial horse breeder Wayland Smalley is the only Republican running.

TEXAS
Filing deadline: passed
Primary: passed
Runoff: passed

House
1st district
Incumbent: Max Sandlin (D)
4th term (56 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

This east Texas district is perhaps the most difficult for Democrats to hold of the five targeted seats in the Lone Star State.

Sandlin has represented less than half of the district’s population during his eight years in Congress, and two of the new counties — Smith and Gregg — are heavily Republican and home to more than a third of the district’s voters.

To make matters worse, Sandlin’s general election opponent is former District Judge Louie Gohmert (R), who has an extremely strong political base in Smith.

And even Democrats acknowledge that Sandlin has not done the kind of fundraising he must if he hopes to have a chance for victory.

He raised $229,000 in the first three months of the year, with $375,000 in the bank.

Sandlin’s fundraising picked up considerably between his pre-primary report (in mid-February) and the end of March, however. On Feb. 17 he had $207,000 in the bank.

Gohmert’s funds were depleted by primary and runoff races; he showed $119,000 in the bank at the end of March. He raised better than $450,000 to win the nomination.

Sandlin still carries the power of incumbency, which is not to be underestimated. But the underlying nature of this district coupled with Gohmert’s base in the seat’s population center makes it an uphill climb for the incumbent.

2nd district
Incumbent: Nick Lampson (D)
4th term (59 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Urged by some Democrats to make a quixotic challenge to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) — the architect of the Republican-led redistricting — Lampson demurred, choosing instead to run in the Republican-leaning 2nd district.

That seat includes Lampson’s base of Beaumont and has roughly 50 percent of the territory included in his old 9th district. It is also covered by the Houston media market, a costly one to run a challenger candidacy.

The district is not all peaches and cream for Lampson, however, as statewide Republicans would have averaged 61 percent there in 2002.

Lampson is aggressively fundraising for the contest, bringing in $411,000 in the first three months of the year with $490,000 in the bank.

Republicans got a major break when former Harris County District Judge Ted Poe (R) avoided a runoff despite a crowded primary field.

Poe was far and away the best-known candidate in the primary due in large part to his notoriety on the bench.

He has handed down a variety of controversial sentences including forcing a man who murdered a truck driver to carry a picture of his victim in his wallet and place flowers on his grave.

Despite several wealthy candidates spending significant amounts of their own money, Poe took 61 percent.

Some Republicans have expressed hesitation about Poe due to an incident reported in the Houston Press, an alternative weekly newspaper.

The Press reported that Poe was forced to apologize to his church for having an extramarital affair. Poe has not commented on the story and said his personal life is not part of the campaign.

Poe’s convincing primary victory and notoriety in the district should make Lampson nervous.

While the incumbent appears to be on his game, this will be a very close race.

9th district
Open seat: Chris Bell (D) was defeated in a primary
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Bell’s primary loss at the hands of former Houston Justice of the Peace Al Green was the biggest shocker in the state’s March 9 primaries.

In a district drastically redrawn by Republican remappers, Green won by 35 points, benefiting from his willingness to spend his own money on the race and the support of several Congressional Black Caucus members including Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Roughly 50 percent of the Houston-area district was new to Bell and he never raised enough money to get himself on television in the area, a necessity to introduce himself to voters who were unfamiliar with him.

Green has strong roots in the district’s black community; blacks comprise roughly 37 percent of the voting-age population in the district.

In addition to more than 20 years as justice of the peace, Green was also head of the Houston chapter of the NAACP for a decade.

Green faces Arlette Molina (R) in the fall but is not expected to be seriously challenged.

10th district
Open seat: Created in redistricting
Outlook: Safe Republican

Former Deputy Attorney General Mike McCaul (R) will come to Washington next year after winning the Republican nomination in this strong Republican district.

Stretching from Houston in the east to Austin in the west, this barbell-shaped seat drew a cavalcade of aspiring Republicans, including several candidates who financed the race out of their own pockets.

Leading the spending spree was businessman Ben Streusand (R), who spent better than $2 million in the March 9 primary. He led the field with 28 percent; McCaul, whose father-in-law is the CEO of Clear Channel Communications, spent $650,000 of his own money, receiving 24 percent.

In the April 13 runoff, McCaul used his family connections to line up a cadre of political establishment support, including the endorsements of Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and John Cornyn (R).

Both men spent freely from their own pockets in the runoff, but the race was not close. McCaul took 63 percent, Streusand 37 percent.

No Democrats even filed, ensuring that McCaul will be the first Congressman in this new seat.

11th district
Open seat: Created in redistricting
Outlook: Safe Republican

Accountant Mike Conaway’s (R) second Congressional bid was the charm, as he easily won the Republican nomination in this strongly GOP district centered in Midland.

Conaway won 75 percent in the March 9 primary against a little-known opponent only nine months after he lost a special election to now-Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R) by just 587 votes.

After coming up just short in 2003, Conaway was the beneficiary of the plan by Republican redistricters to craft a Midland-based district specifically for him. Conaway at one time was a business partner of President Bush.

Conaway never stopped running for office after the 2003 special election and was never seriously challenged for the new seat.

He faces a token challenge from teacher Wayne Raasch (D).

17th district
Incumbent: Chet Edwards (D)
7th term (52 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Edwards may have the easiest path to re-election of the five Democrats endangered by the Republican-drawn Congressional map.

This is due in part to Edwards — he is seen as the strongest campaigner of the Democrats being targeted — and in part to state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, the Republican nominee in the 17th.

The fight over the coming months is likely to center on Brazos County, which includes College Station — the home of the Texas A&M Aggies — and the second largest county in the district.

Edwards has a strong political base in McLennan County (Waco), while Wohlgemuth currently holds a state House district anchored in Johnson County.

Brazos is neutral territory, as it was in the Republican runoff between Wohlgemuth and former Waco school board member Dot Snyder.

In the runoff, Wohlgemuth lost McClennan to Snyder but was able to emerge victorious by maximizing her Johnson County base and winning the tossup area in Brazos.

Edwards would appear to have a leg up in Brazos given that he graduated from A&M. He has already launched an ad called “Aggie,” reminding voters that he is an alumnus.

Wohlgemuth won the primary thanks in large part to the financial support of the Club for Growth, which bundled money to her campaign and also ran television ads on her behalf in the primary and runoff.

There is some concern that Wohlgemuth may be too conservative even for this Republican-leaning district, allowing Edwards to peel off moderate GOPers.

Although he has represented only 35 percent of the new 17th district constituents, the district’s demographics are similar to Edwards’ old 11th district, which he has held since 1990.

Edwards has a huge cash edge over Wohlgemuth. He ended March with $816,000 on hand to Wohlgemuth’s $52,000.

Expect a close race, though Edwards is the early favorite.

19th district
Member vs. Member: Charlie Stenholm (D) and Randy Neugebauer (R)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Stenholm and Neugebauer will square off in this West Texas district, which has a heavy Republican tilt.

Democrats maintain that the contrast between Stenholm, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, and the freshman Neugebauer, who has been in office for less than a year, works in their favor.

Republicans counter that while Stenholm has won in a Republican-leaning district since 1978, he has never had to run against another incumbent in areas that know little about him and have strong GOP underpinnings.

Roughly 33 percent of the new 19th was in Stenholm’s 17th district; about 66 percent of Neugebauer’s old 19th district population is included in the new seat.

Both camps have released polling that paint very different pictures of the race.

A Public Opinion Strategies survey conducted for the National Republican Congressional Committee in late January showed Neugebauer with a 49 percent to 38 percent lead.

Stenholm put out a poll of his own in early April that had him leading Neugebauer 48 percent to 44 percent.

The race is likely to hinge on whether Republicans can effectively paint Stenholm as a “national Democrat.” While his voting record is one of the more conservative among House Democrats, there are likely to be certain votes that can be highlighted that link Stenholm to some Democratic lightning rods like New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Stenholm will counter that Republican strategy by pointing to his experience and ability to deliver for the district due to his seniority in the House.

Both candidates are performing well on the fundraising front. Neugebauer ended March with $727,000 on hand to Stenholm’s $588,000.

24th district
Open seat: Created in redistricting
Outlook: Safe Republican

State Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) waited his turn following the 2001 redistricting and was rewarded under the map approved by the state Legislature in late 2003.

In a suburban Dallas district drawn for him, Marchant took 73 percent in a four-way primary in March.

He was expected to come to Congress two years earlier representing the 32nd district, but Rep. Pete Sessions (R) decided to move from the 5th district into the 32nd, temporarily blocking Marchant’s ascent.

Marchant is in his ninth term in the state House; prior to coming to the Legislature, he was the mayor of Carrolton.

He is a heavy favorite in the fall against computer programmer Gary Page (D), a former member of the Green Party.

32nd district
Member vs. Member: Martin Frost (D) and Pete Sessions (R)
Outlook: Tossup

In what is quickly shaping up to be the most high-profile and quite possibly the most expensive House race of the cycle, Frost and Sessions are already engaged in a pitched battle for this north Texas seat.

Frost has long been a thorn in the side of Texas Republicans as the chief architect of both the 1990 and 2000 redistricting plans that kept Lone Star Democrats as a majority of the delegation, and as the mastermind behind Democrats’ national redistricting strategy.

Under the Republican redistricting map, which Frost fought tooth and nail — and ultimately unsuccessfully — his 24th district was split among five other seats, none of which were particularly appealing for him.

Frost decided to run against Sessions in a district that has a 40 percent minority population but gave statewide Republicans better than 60 percent of the vote in 2002.

As expected, Frost has come out extremely aggressively with a campaign that is operating as if it were October rather than May. In late April, the two men signed a clean campaign pledge, agreeing not to allow any third-party groups to advertise in the race. The pact is not legally binding, however, and is not likely to dissuade the many groups likely to try to influence the outcome of this race.

Both men are stockpiling huge war chests. Sessions closed March with a whopping $1.9 million in the bank; Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had $1.2 million in the bank. Frost has said he expects to raise and spend $3 million.

Sessions has the initial advantage, as more than half of the new 32nd’s voters come from his old 32nd district. Frost allies argue, however, that Sessions has represented the district for only two years and that Frost is at least as well-known and well-liked in the area.

Democrats hope to paint Sessions as an ultra-conservative whose lockstep support of the Republican House leadership is not in the best interests of the district. Frost, in turn, will run on his ability to deliver for the area.

Frost’s task remains difficult given the district demographics. Democrats repeatedly assert that if anyone can win this race it is Frost, but this may be even too big a task for him.