Months of speculation will be put to rest as Oklahoma’s 2022 campaign season formally gets underway this week.
Though many candidates have announced plans to run for one of the many federal, state and judicial races on the ballot this year, they will have to formally file for office during a three-day window that started Wednesday and ends Friday.
That means voters will soon know the full slate of candidates, barring withdrawals or removals, for races including battles for the governor’s office, Oklahoma’s entire congressional delegation and most of the Legislature.
Here are four things to watch:
Looking at the High-Profile Races
Among the marquee matchups will be Gov. Kevin Stitt’s re-election bid.
Stitt is expected to face off against Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who switched parties last fall to enter the race as a Democrat, in the general election.
They will first need to win their respective party’s nominations and will be looking to top the 50% threshold in the June 28 primary to avoid a run-off.
That outcome could depend on how many challengers will emerge this week.
Republicans who have announced plans so far to challenge Stitt are Joel Kintsel, the director of the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs, Broken Arrow physician Dr. Mark Sherwood and Oklahoma City resident Moira McCabe.
Connie Johnson, a former state lawmaker who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, is the only other Democrat to have announced a candidacy.
In addition to the five U.S. House seats that are up every two years, U.S. Sen. James Lankford seeks re-election and there will be a special election to replace U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who announced early retirement plans.
At least nine Republicans and five Democrats have already announced plans to run for one of the two U.S. Senate seats. More could join the field.
Other statewide races on the ballot this year are lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, state auditor and inspector, commissioner of labor, insurance commission and corporation commissions.
For down-ticket races, all 101 state House, 24 state Senate races and dozens of district attorneys, district judges and associate district judges will also be elected.
Who Gets a ‘Free Pass’?
While this week’s filing period is the start to the campaign season for many, it will also be the end for likely dozens who will be able to claim victory without needing a single vote.
Fifty legislative races were decided well before the 2020 primary elections. That’s because in those contests, only one person filed for office.
An Oklahoma Watch review of 2020 candidate filings found Republicans fielded at least one candidate in 95 of the 126 legislative races that were decided that year. Democrats, meanwhile, fielded at least one candidate in only 55 races.
Party leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic was a leading cause of a lower-than-normal number. But as of late, the Oklahoma Democratic Party has struggled to field candidates in rural districts where Republicans have large demographic advantages.
One of the Democratic party’s largest showings, however, came during the 2018 election cycle. That year’s teacher walkout and the fight for K-12 funding spurred several educators, education advocates and other political newcomers to file for office in a record-setting filing period.
Many of those candidates ran as Democrats as the party fielded candidates in 106 of the 125 legislative contests. Republicans fielded at least one candidate in 110 races.
Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairwoman Alicia Andrews previously told Oklahoma Watch her party is looking for a better showing this year. Even in Republican strongholds where Democrats often face well-funded incumbents, Andrews said it’s still her goal to field as many qualified candidates as possible.
“We know there are going to be longshots out there, but sometimes you have to run two or three times to build up the support to actually win,” she said. “I also believe the saying, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ so we don’t want to give (incumbent Republicans) a free pass.”
Under Redistricting, New Political Landscape
This will be the first election under legislative and congressional maps lawmakers passed last year. On the congressional side, some of the most meaningful changes came in Oklahoma’s 5th District. The state’s only state district that has seen competitive races since 2012 became a more difficult target for Democrats.
Democrat Kendra Horn broke a long-running GOP winning streak in the district in 2018 when she defeated incumbent Steve Russell with 50.7% of the vote. Stephanie Bice retook the seat for the GOP in 2020 when she beat Horn with 52.1% of the vote.
The district, which previously covered most of Oklahoma County and all of Pottawatomie and Seminole counties, has been extended to include all of Lincoln County plus the southern portion of Logan County and an eastern portion of Canadian County.
Oklahoma City, most of which was in the 5th District, is now split into three congressional districts. The 3rd District, which covered much of the western part of the state, absorbed much of the city’s southwest side, a heavily Hispanic area that has been a Democrat stronghold.
Previously, Republicans held an advantage in the 5th District in a partisan lean score developed by Dave’s Redistricting App, with 52.4% of the district leaning Republican. The new map increases that to 58%.
This is good news for Bice. Going into the filing period, no other Republicans have announced plans for the seat. Joshua Harris-Till, a former president of the Young Democrats of America, is the only Democrat who has publicly announced a run for the seat after Abby Broyles dropped out last month.
On the legislative side, more districts could also become less competitive with the newly redistricted maps. Voter data shows many will remain largely uncompetitive as the number of firmy Republican or Democratic districts — a number already high by national standards — grew slightly.
According to Dave’s Redistricting App, 40 of the state’s 48 Senate districts now lean Republican while four lean Democratic. Only four fall in the 45–55% competitive range.
In the 101-member House, 78 now lean Republican, nine lean Democratic and 14 fall in the 45–55% competitive range in the House.
Altogether, that is one fewer district in the 45-55% competitive range than the old maps.
What Comes Next?
Candidates who will face an intra-party opponent must prepare for the June 28 primary followed by the run-off, if needed, on Aug. 23. But the electoral roster could also be trimmed shortly after this week.
Candidates have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to withdraw their candidacy or file a contest of candidacy if they believe one of their opponents doesn’t meet the residency or other requirements.
The Oklahoma State Election Board plans to hear the contests on April 25.
Trevor Brown covered politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues for Oklahoma Watch. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc