Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tulsa World: Democrats lead for five state offices as campaign winds down

Jari Askins, Drew Edmondson, Scott Meacham, Kim Holland and Sandy Garrett are out in front according to the latest Tulsa World poll.

By RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer

Democrats lead for five of seven "down-ticket" state offices, including lieutenant governor, but most races remain competitive heading into the final days of the campaign, according to an Oklahoma Poll of likely voters.

Only two candidates for a state office other than governor, Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Treasurer Scott Meacham, were favored by more than half the 547 respondents to the Oct. 19-23 survey, and the share of undecided voters remained high in most races.

The poll did not include state superintendent of public instruction, where Democratic incumbent Sandy Garrett faces token opposition.

The poll suggests Oklahoma Democrats, who for decades have crossed party lines in large numbers, are less inclined to do so this year. Of Republican candidates for down-ticket offices, only Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony was favored by as many as a third of registered Democrats.

Republicans indicated they intend to vote their party, too. Edmondson was the only Democrat favored by as many as a third of Republican respondents. But among GOP candidates, only Anthony and Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau attracted more crossover votes than their Democratic opponents.

That's not a good sign for Republicans. Democrats outnumber them by roughly 245,000 statewide.

Arliss Selvidge of Sperry said he wouldn't be surprised if party affiliation is a major factor in voters' decisions on secondary state offices.

"That would be my guess, just because of, in my opinion, the mess the Republicans have made of it the last couple of years," Selvidge said. "Really, I don't know that much about these other offices. That's why I vote along party lines."

Republican leaders maintain that several of their candidates are closing, including House Speaker Todd Hiett in the unusually high-profile lieutenant governor's race.

The Oklahoma Poll shows Rep. Jari Askins at just under 50 percent, with 38 percent for Hiett, 2 percent for independent E.Z. Million and 10 percent undecided.

In a press release issued late Tuesday, Hiett said, "We expect to take the lead in the next week as voters become more aware, and take a close look at the record."

Whether the deluge of advertising and telephone calls rolling over the electorate will boost what is expected to be a light turnout remains to be seen.

"How can you not keep up with them," said Tulsan Maxine Vandiver. "It's thrown in your face constantly."

Vandiver said she intends to vote for Hiett, but has otherwise tuned out as much of the campaign advertising as possible.

"I'm not particularly fond of people spouting off about themselves and talking about other people," she said. "I try to watch debates on TV. They pretty much tell you all you need to know about someone."

Reneau and Anthony hold fairly safe leads in their races, and Meacham is 22 points in front of Tulsan Howard Barnett.

Auditor Jeff McMahan and Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland of Tulsa have more tenuous margins against their Republican challengers.

Poll consultant Al Soltow, University of Tulsa vice president for research, said it is difficult to say whether the rest of the Democratic ticket is being pulled along by Gov. Brad Henry, who enjoys a huge lead on Republican challenger Ernest Istook.

"Obviously, Henry is very popular," Soltow said. "That has to have some positive effect. Does that mean because there seems to be such a gap in the gubernatorial race that Republicans are just not going to show up? I think I could argue that makes the other races more important -- another reason to show up.

"So I don't know that I'd jump to the conclusion that the lack of a competitive race at the top of the ticket will necessarily mean Republicans will stay home."

Reneau holds a 16-point lead on challenger Lloyd Fields with 21 percent undecided, and Anthony is 12 points ahead of Democrat Cody Graves with 16 percent undecided.

Closest was the state auditor's race, a rematch of the 2002 election won by McMahan. Challenger Gary Jones, a former Comanche County commissioner, has tried to link McMahan to disgraced former state Sen. Gene Stipe. McMahan leads, 42 percent to 34, but almost 25 percent say they're undecided.

Holland, of Tulsa, leads ex-legislator Bill Case by about 10 points in the insurance commissioner race, which has been spiced by anonymously funded attack ads against Holland.

Neither Tulsa candidate is doing well in their hometown. Barnett is essentially even with Meacham in the Tulsa metropolitan area, while Holland trails Case, a Midwest City insurance agent, by nearly 10 points here.

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