‘Blue Wave’ Fizzles in Oklahoma as GOP Maintains Dominance

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Governor-elect Kevin Stitt pumps his fist in celebration at a watch party at the Bricktown Event Center after winning the election. His wife and some of his children walk with him. Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

This story was updated Nov. 7.

A Democratic “blue wave” that would upend Republican dominance over Oklahoma failed to materialize Tuesday as the state’s political makeup – with a few exceptions – saw little change after the highly anticipated midterm elections.

Kevin Stitt’s defeat of Drew Edmondson in the governor’s race clenched a Republican sweep of statewide offices, making it the third straight election cycle in which GOP candidates shut Democrats out of the executive branch.

Republicans lawmakers, meanwhile, extended their decades-long streak of picking up legislative seats as the GOP added a Senate seat and four House seats to their already substantial control over the two chambers.

“This election seems to be one of reaffirming the redness of the Oklahoma electorate,” said James Davenport, a professor of political science at Rose State College. “You’re not seeing any kind of Democratic wave. The race for governor turned into a rout, and you’re not seeing the Democrats make the kind of gains in the Legislature that they were hoping to make.”

Although Democrats saw some successes in urban districts that previously trended Republican, their highlight was Democrat Kenda Horn’s upset of Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Russell in Oklahoma’s 5th District. Voters in the Oklahoma City metro district added the first Democrat to the state’s congressional delegation since 2012.

To make more sense of a night that saw surprises, big changes and familiar results, here are some of the top takeaways.

Drew Edmondson gives a concession speech after losing to Kevin Stitt. Mashiur Rahaman/Oklahoma Watch

Rural Struggles Highlight Democrats’ Woes 

Edmondson became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win Oklahoma County since Brad Henry’s 2006 re-election rout.

In addition to taking Oklahoma County, Edmondson narrowly won in Cleveland and Cherokee counties. And he came within 3 percentage points of Stitt in the new governor-elect’s hometown of Tulsa.

But his 54 percent of the vote in the state’s most populous county and competitive showing in its second largest county weren’t enough to overcome extreme losses in most of the rest of the state.

Edmondson took in less than 40 percent of the vote in 62 of the state’s 77 counties.

This includes losing some small counties, such as Ellis, Beaver and Cimarron, to Stitt by 65-percentage-point margins. But even in midsize suburban or rural counties, Edmondson struggled. Take Wagoner County, for example: Edmondson failed to top 35 percent of the vote there.

The results were even more extreme and widespread for the remaining statewide Democratic candidates, all of whom faced difficulties not only in rural, but also urban, counties.

In the races for lieutenant governor, state auditor and inspector, attorney general, state treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, labor commissioner, insurance commissioner and corporation commissioner, the Republican candidate won every single county with the exception of Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who won every county except Cherokee County.

With four years until the next round of statewide elections (other than a U.S. Senate seat that is up in 2020) Democrats will be tasked with devising a new strategy to find statewide success.

Horn Wins in Changing 5th District

 Kendra Horn’s win in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District could motivate Democrats and show them gains are possible and where they’re likely to be made.

The state’s 5th District, which covers Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Seminole counties, has long been thought of as a Republican stronghold, with the GOP in control of the seat since since former U.S. Rep. John Jarman changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1975. Term-limited Gov. Mary Fallin represented the 5th District, as did U.S. Sen. James Lankford.

Elected in 2014, Russell won re-election two years later by a 20-percentage-point margin over Democrat Al McAffrey, and Donald Trump outperformed Hillary Clinton in the district, 53 percent to 40 percent, during his presidential run.

Election results show Horn won despite losing Pottawatomie and Seminole counties by significant margins. But Horn easily outperformed Russell in much of Oklahoma City, including some precincts where she captured more than 90 percent of the vote.

Horn will have to prove her win wasn’t a one-time fluke. But as the district’s demographics continue to shift to a younger, more urban voter base, Democrats could see more success there.

GOP Legislative Gains Continue

The state Legislature is going to get even redder.

Heading into Tuesday’s elections, Republicans made up 72 of the 101 House seats (two were vacant) and 38 of the 48 Senate seats (two were vacant).

Those numbers will now increase to a record-setting 76 Republicans in the House and 39 in the Senate after a night that was punctuated by Republicans toppling three Democratic House members while holding onto all their incumbents’ seats.

Although Republicans picked up a Senate seat, so did Democrats. The two parties each won one of the two vacant seats that were on the ballot. And as Republicans flipped one Democratic seat, Democrats countered by doing the same.

As a result, both parties ended up netting one seat. But compared to the start of 2017, Democrats have seen gains, beginning that year with eight seats and winning two special elections since then.

In the House, Republicans were more dominant.

Republicans and Democrats split the two vacant House seats on Tuesday. Also, Democrats flipped three Republican seats and Republicans flipped seven seats.

Both Republicans and Democrats flipped several of seats that were previously under the other party's control. Here is a breakdown of what seats Republicans and Democrats claimed after Tuesday's elections.
ChamberDistrictCurrent OfficeholderPre-Election Party ControlNew Party ControlNewly Elected Member
House86William Fourkiller (Retired)DemocratRepublicanDavid Hardin
House75Karen GaddisDemocratRepublicanT.J. Marti
House24Steve KouplenDemocratRepublicanLogan Phillips
House18Donnie ConditDemocratRepublicanDan Smith
House17Brian Renegar (Term Limited)DemocratRepublicanJim Grego
House15Ed Cannaday (Term Limited)DemocratRepublicanRandy Randleman
House6Chuck Hoskin (Term Limited)DemocratRepublicanRusty Cornwell
House61VacantNoneRepublicanKenton Patzkowsky
Senate20VacantNoneRepublicanChuck Hall
Senate32Randy Bass (Term Limited)DemocratRepublicanJohn Michael Montgomery
House83Randy McDaniel (Term Limited)RepublicanDemocratChelsey Branham
House79Weldon Watson (Retired)RepublicanDemocratMelissa Provenzano
House71Katie Henke (Retired)RepublicanDemocratCheryl Barber
House45VacantNoneDemocratMerleyn Bell
Senate30VacantNoneDemocratJulia Kirk
Senate40Ervin Yen (Defeated in Primary)RepublicanDemocratCarri Hicks

Tuesday’s results mark the 16th straight election cycle, dating back to 1987, in which the GOP has either increased or maintained its numbers after a midterm or presidential election.

This level of control will give GOP legislators veto-proof margins as long as the caucus sticks together. Although it is unlikely Republicans will look to pass tax increases next year, with 76 House members, Republicans could clear the 75 percent threshold needed to pass revenue-raising bills without help from Democrats.

This could remove a bargaining chip for Democrats – something they used extensively earlier this year in budget negotiations.

Democratic teacher and state Senator-elect Carri Hicks speaks to an Oklahoma City resident while door-knocking in Warr Acres Tuesday. Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

Who’s In, Who’s Out

Democrats saw a few notable victories Tuesday by extending their reach in urban districts, including flipping Oklahoma City’s Senate District 30, last held by Republican David Holt, who moved on to become the mayor of Oklahoma City.

But Republicans were the only party to take down incumbents on Tuesday.

Republican challengers ousted Reps. Karen Gaddis, R-Tulsa; Donnie Condit, D-McAlester; and Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs. Kouplen took over as House minority leader earlier this year after Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, stepped down from his leadership role.

All 37 House and Senate Republican incumbents ended up winning re-election Tuesday.

Davenport said these results show that the state’s demographics make it difficult for Democrats to be competitive in much of the state.

“It’s hard to defeat incumbents,” Davenport said. “And right now in some of these (legislative) districts where the registration is overwhelmingly Republican, it’s hard for Democrats to overcome that.”

That is a contrast from the primary-election season when six Republican incumbents lost and another six lost in subsequent runoffs.

Putnam City teachers urge motorists to support pro-public-education candidates during early voting last week. Mashiur Rahaman/Oklahoma Watch

Eight of those 12 lawmakers were targeted by public-education advocates, and even some members of their own party, for voting against the $425 million tax-raising bill earlier this year that funded the teacher pay package.

This outcome seemed to spell trouble for the four lawmakers – Reps. Tom Gann, R-Inola; Tommy Hardin, R-Madill; Kevin West, R-Moore; and Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro – who also voted against the tax bill and faced Democratic challengers Tuesday.

All four were re-elected.

What It Means for Next Year’s Legislative Agenda 

With the GOP keeping the governor’s office and increasing its historic dominance of the legislature, its lawmakers must now figure out how to make good on Stitt’s promise to make Oklahoma a “top 10 state” in education, health care and economic prosperity.

But despite a new governor and legislature that will see dozens of first-time lawmakers, Oklahoma will continue to face many of the same problems that have plagued policymakers in recent years.

State agencies will continue to ask for additional money, including the Department of Corrections’ request for $1.57 billion in new funding, and education advocates will continue to call for ways to further boost teacher pay and classroom spending.

Stitt has pledged to accomplish this by improving the state’s budgeting process and reviewing its educational system to reduce costs and find new money for additional teacher raises and hiring bonuses.

But Stitt has said he wants to achieve his goals without raising taxes. And a year removed from passing the largest tax increase in state history, the Republican-controlled legislature will likely be very reluctant to again consider increasing taxes.

This means Democratic proposals to increase funding for education, mental health and other state services by further increasing oil and gas taxes are likely non-starters in next year’s legislature. The same likely can be said about plans to find revenue by again raising the state’s cigarette tax or extending sales taxes to dozens of services that are currently exempt.

The Republican victories on Tuesday also mean that renewed calls for Oklahoma to expand Medicaid are unlikely to go anywhere.

Stitt has said he opposes the expansion, which would extend coverage to 250,000 low-income Oklahomans, and Republican legislative leaders who have balked at Medicaid expansion in the past are likely to continue to do so.

Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies contributed to this report.