Coburn Favored in Oklahoma

Posted July 26, 2004 at 5:28pm

Former Rep. Tom Coburn appears poised to win Oklahoma’s GOP Senate primary today, likely avoiding what would have been a costly monthlong runoff for Republicans.

Coburn faces state Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony and former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, the one-time frontrunner backed by the state’s GOP establishment.

While a Humphreys campaign spokesman maintained on Monday that he is still in the hunt for the nomination, informed sources said that support for the former mayor has taken a nosedive in recent weeks and odds are Coburn will garner the 50 percent needed to avoid an Aug. 24 runoff.

The winner of the GOP contest will face Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.) in November. Carson faces only nominal opposition in today’s Democratic primary.

Humphreys’ spokesman Rick Buchanan said the large percentage of undecided voters in most recent polls indicates that Coburn does not have a lock on the nomination.

“There’s a huge undecided factor in this race,” Buchanan said. “It’s the undecided that’s going to determine whether it’s a photo finish or it’s a big spread.”

Buchanan acknowledged that Humphreys had reallocated some of his resources in recent days, scaling back an ad buy in the Tulsa media market and devoting the resources to shoring up his base in Oklahoma City. Humphreys has poured more than $1 million of his own money into the race.

“It’s been an uphill battle for Kirk from day one but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it and we look forward to the results,” Buchanan said.

Sources said Humphreys’ support declined in recent weeks after he was targeted by Anthony’s ads, which portrayed the former mayor as a crooked politician who engaged in shady land deals while in office. The ads especially hurt Humphreys in his Oklahoma City base.

At the same time, Coburn saw his support grow after he hit television airwaves for the first time. The Club for Growth, which is supporting Coburn, also has aired positive ads on his behalf and briefly went after Humphreys.

In an attempt to cut Coburn’s growing lead, Humphreys launched negative ads targeting the former lawmaker’s votes against military spending. But the move appeared to backfire, and Coburn responded with an ad scolding Humphreys for breaking a campaign pledge to stay positive.

Humphreys pulled the ad from rotation late last week, after retiring Sen. Don Nickles (R) publicly asked him to stop airing the negative spot. Nickles and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are both publicly supporting Humphreys.

While some Republicans remain leery of portraying Coburn’s nomination as a done deal, party operatives on both sides of the aisle are quietly plotting general election strategy for a Carson/Coburn matchup.

As the Republicans have been fighting it out, Carson has been “working his tail off,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said in a conference call with reporters last week.

The GOP battle, and potential for an even nastier runoff, has further buoyed Democratic hopes of picking up Nickles’ seat.

“We actually believe this is a race we’re going to win and we think Congressman Carson has put himself in a tremendous position to be successful,” Corzine said.

Carson raised more than $1 million in the second quarter of the year, and he showed nearly $2 million left in the bank as of June 30.

“He’s got a lot of cash on hand and he’s ready for a fall fight,” the DSCC chairman said.

But even as Democrats remain upbeat about the chances of picking up the seat, Republicans note that they have history and the overwhelming partisan leanings of the state on their side.

At the same time, Republicans tout Coburn’s geographical advantage in the race against Carson. Both men are from the eastern and more traditionally Democratic, part of the state. In 2000, Carson won the race to succeed Coburn in the 2nd district.

“Coburn is a guy who’s going to do better than a typical Republican in the Democratic parts of the state because he’s represented them before,” said one pro-Coburn Republican. “It’s really quite a mountain for Carson.”

If Coburn is able to hold Carson’s vote totals down in his base, the Democrat will have to compete for, and win, a large percentage of Republican votes in other parts of the state.

Elsewhere in the state, state Rep. Dan Boren and former district attorney Kalyn Free are facing off in the 2nd district Democratic primary to succeed Carson. Free, who has gotten heavy support from EMILY’s List, has run a stronger-than-expected campaign and may force the frontrunner Boren into a runoff. Boren is the son of former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.) and the grandson of former Rep. Lyle Boren (D-Okla.).

The district heavily favors Democrats, and Republicans are not expected to contest it this fall.