Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Carson Reverses Course in Oklahoma

In House on July 1, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Former Oklahoma Rep. Brad Carson (D), who appeared to be immediately hopping back into the political fray when Rep. Dan Boren (D) announced he would not seek re-election in 2012, has had a change of heart. Mr. Carson, who represented the 2nd district for two terms before running unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2004, would clearly be the Democrats’ best candidate to hold the seat for the party in the general election. He began sending messages yesterday, however, that he has decided not to run.

OK-2 is the state’s eastern congressional district, anchored by the city of Muskogee – made famous in the 1969 Merle Haggard song, “Okie from Muskogee” – features many towns between 10 and 20,000 people and hugs the entire Oklahoma-Arkansas border. The 2nd is a politically changing district, evolving from the quintessential “yellow dog Democrat” seat to a place that will vote Republican (McCain: 66 percent). Regardless of its partisan context, the region remains habitually conservative.

Sen. Tom Coburn became the first Republican to represent this part of the state in the modern political era when he won the congressional seat in 1994. Pledging only to serve three terms, Coburn retired in 2000 thus opening the door for Carson to re-capture the district for the Democrats. Rep. Boren succeeded Carson in 2004.

The former congressman’s surprise decision not to re-enter national politics next year makes this district highly competitive in the general election and gives the Republicans a strong opportunity to convert the seat. State Sen. Kenneth Corn (D), who was already challenging Carson for the Democratic nomination, is obviously now in a stronger position but the nomination is far from his. Since the Democrats have a large number of state and local officials throughout this region, we can expect a crowded and combative party primary. Republicans don’t yet have an announced candidate, but state Sen. Josh Breechen and state Rep. George Faught continue to be mentioned as likely candidates.

Without Carson in the race, expect activity in both parties to rapidly increase. The OK-2 campaign will likely carry a “toss-up” rating at least through the early going of the 2012 election cycle and probably all the way to Election Day.
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