The first decisive moment in Oklahoma’s 2016 election season will occur on Tuesday, when Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians nominate candidates for dozens of legislative and congressional races.
Some of these primary races will lock up the ultimate winner because only candidates from one party are running. Others will be decided in a later run-off or in November.
Making sense of primary results can be difficult. Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday.
Will any incumbents fall?
A record-setting 417 candidates filed paperwork earlier this year to run for the state’s legislative, congressional and Corporation Commission seats. This surge has created more contested primaries.
A total of 24 Republican and four Democratic incumbent legislators drew challengers from their own parties.
The sitting Republican lawmakers facing primary opponents are Reps. Mark Lepak, Dustin Roberts, Todd Thomsen, Josh Cockroft, Kevin Wallace, Sean Roberts, John Paul Jordan, Scott Martin, Dennis Johnson, Charles Ortega, Casey Murdock, Jeff Coody, Jadine Nollan, Ken Walker, Kevin Calvey, Randy McDaniel and Sens. Wayne Shaw, Rob Standridge, Ron Sharp, Bryce Marlatt, Nathan Dahm, Dan Newberry, Corey Brooks and Kyle Loveless.
Democratic incumbents facing primary challengers are Sen. Kevin Matthews and Reps. Chuck Hoskin, Donnie Condit and Regina Goodwin.
Incumbent upsets are rare in primary races. Only one occurred during the 2014 and 2012 elections combined. But incumbents could face trouble this year because of the anti-establishment wave that has swept the country and frustration among many voters with how the state Legislature dealt with the state’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall.
Effects of campaign money on key races
More than $4.45 million has already been donated in cash or in-kind contributions to candidates this calendar year, according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission records. Overwhelmingly, incumbent lawmakers have been the biggest beneficiaries.
The latest campaign finance reports, which cover the filing period through June 13, show that only one primary challenger has outraised an incumbent opponent. That would be Republican Paul Scott, who raised $31,410 in monetary contributions in the Senate District 43 matchup with Brooks, who raised $9,850.
Brooks, however, maintains a lead in available cash because he began his campaign with more than $40,000, thanks to a prior balance.
First test of the ‘teacher caucus’
A wave of current or former educators has fueled the record-setting number of candidates this year.
At least 63 current or former educators, administrators, school staff members or school board members are running in legislative races. Many spouses of educators or educator advocates are also seeking office.
These candidates, almost all of whom are political newcomers, are campaigning on a promise to find more money for teacher salaries and classroom programs.
Some of them are unchallenged in the primary and will get a free pass to the general election. But 45 of the 63 will need to win Tuesday to advance.
Three candidates will need to defeat an incumbent to continue. These races feature Mustang High School science teacher Mike Mason, taking on Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City; Altus Board of Education member John Thomas, taking on Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus; and Nobel High School teacher Marilyn Goll, taking on Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman.
Will many voters turn out?
The 2014 general election attracted only about 40.7 percent of registered voters, or just 29 percent of Oklahoma’s eligible voting population. That was the state’s poorest showing in decades.
Primary elections, which tend to feature lower-profile races, almost always garner less interest.
But turnout could be stronger than expected because of the national political drama. A record number of Oklahoma voters showed up to vote in the state’s Republican and Democratic presidential primary elections.
There is also the question of whether educators and education supporters, who came in the hundreds to lobby the Legislature for more public-school funding near the end of the session, will swell the turnout.
No free pass for U.S. representatives
All five of the state’s U.S. House members, who are Republicans – Reps. Tom Cole, Markwayne Mullin, Steve Russell, Jim Bridenstine and Frank Lucas – are seeking re-election this year.
All are facing at least one primary challenger.
At least one Democrat has also filed in each of the five congressional seats. The second, fourth and fifth congressional districts drew multiple challengers, so a winnowing will take place Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford has already secured the Republican nomination for state’s only U.S. Senate seat up for election this year.
He will take on Democrat Mike Workman, two independent candidates and the winner of Tuesday’s contest between Robert Murphy and Dax Ewbank.