Legislative Races to Watch

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state-capitol-exterior-dusk-croppedWith scant public polling on Oklahoma’s legislative races, newly released campaign finance information offers clues on which races could be close and bear watching on Election Day.

An Oklahoma Watch analysis of data shows that the 202 legislative candidates running in contested general election have raised more than $8.3 million this election cycle. That averages out to about $41,225 per candidate.

But some races are generating more interest than others and highlight where donors are focusing their efforts. The finance reports are the final ones to be released before Tuesday, outside of any reports on contributions totaling more than $1,000 from an individual donor.

Here are some takeaways from the campaign reports.

Senate District 39

The two candidates battling for the open Senate District 39 seat in Tulsa have collectively attracted more money than any other two candidates in a legislative race this year.

Democrat John Waldron has raised $234,615 this election cycle, while his Republican opponent, Dave Rader, has taken in $200,290. By comparison, the 11 candidates who have sought the seat since 2000 have collectively raised $541,971, according to followthemoney.org.

Waldron, a social studies teacher, and Rader, a former University of Tulsa football coach, are vying to replace Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, who has held the seat since 2005 and is term-limited.

Rader hopes to prevent Democrats from flipping what has been a reliably Republican seat. But finance reports show Waldron is drawing support from many educators; he is considered part of the so-called “teachers’ caucus,” an informal group of educators and others who are running largely on a platform of more money for public schools.

Senate District 37

The Senate District 37 race is another one where Democrats hope to expand their presence in the Legislature. (Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers – 39-9 in the Senate and 71-30 in the House – and are unlikely to lose many seats.)

Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, has raised $232,535 this election cycle – more than any other legislative candidate – in his bid for a third term.

But Democratic challenger Lloyd Snow, the retiring superintendent of Sand Springs Public Schools and another “teachers’ caucus” candidate, is not far behind with a campaign haul of $185,161.

The district also has voted pretty reliably for GOP legislators in the past. But the race is one to watch given the amounts being spent by both candidates.

House District 2

Another incumbent who might face a tight race is Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw.

He has raised $59,042 in his bid for a third two-year term. But his Democratic challenger, Tom Stites, has raised nearly double that amount, with $111,564.

Bennett is controversial – he was accused recently of encouraging Islamophobia at a recent interim hearing. He has not won decisively in his past two campaigns, taking in 53.7 percent of the vote in 2012 and 54.5 percent of the vote in 2010. Stites, a political newcomer, is a business owner and a former engineer with Nike.

House District 13

Republicans, likewise, are targeting several seats previously held by Democrats in an effort to maintain or grow their supermajority.

Campaign filings show one of the Democratic seats at risk is the House District 13 one, being vacated by Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner.

Wayne Herriman, a businessman and former U.S. House candidate, is the Democratic nominee. He has raised $15,415, including $10,000 in loans, and reported a negative campaign balance of $8,611 in his latest campaign finance report.

Republican candidate Avery Frix, who at age 21 would be among the youngest in the Legislature, has raised nearly $100,000, about a quarter of that coming from loans.

House District 87

Among the many contested House races, one that was generated substantial cash is District 87 in northwest Oklahoma City.

Republican Bruce Smith, who runs a trucking company, has raised $122,871, and Democrat Collin Walke, an attorney, has taken in $116,127. The winner will replace GOP Floor Leader Jason Nelson, who is not seeking another term.

Walke, who won his primary race against Kelly Meredith by just 25 votes, was also the Democratic nominee for the seat in the 2014 election. He lost to Nelson, gaining 46.9 percent of the vote.