OKLAHOMA CITY — The recent success of Democrats in deep-red Oklahoma amid will be put to a further test Tuesday in special elections for three previously Republican-held state legislative seats in races that could mirror others nationwide.
The races are in suburban districts in Oklahoma City and Tulsa where Republicans have nearly 2-to-1 registration advantages, but come at a time of voter frustration over years of state budget shortfalls and recent scandals that have led to the resignation of Republican incumbents.
The special elections also come on the heels of a tidal wave election in Virginia last week that saw several Democrats win state House races against Republican incumbents. Republicans are downplaying the losses, but sweeping victories in Virginia and key gains in other 2017 state legislative races have Democrats hoping for even bigger wins in next year's midterm election.
Although Republicans hold every statewide elected office in Oklahoma and enjoy super majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have found particular success in special elections, even in strongly Republican districts.
"My personal theory is that during special elections we have a better opportunity to connect with voters and talk to them about local issues," said Anna Langthorn, the new chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party in Oklahoma.
Democrats already have won three GOP-held seats in special elections this year and nearly won a fourth in a heavily Republican Seminole County district.
Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard acknowledges the gains, but suggests it has more to do with GOP apathy than a shift in ideology among the Oklahoma electorate.
"Republicans are much more laid back and take these seats for granted," Pollard said. "Democrats are finding themselves in the position that Republicans were in 15 or 20 years ago, they have a cause to fight for.
"They are motivated to try and take their state back."
The seats open in Tuesday's election include one in south Oklahoma City held by former Republican state Sen. Kyle Loveless, who resigned in April and later pleaded guilty to embezzling campaign funds. The other seats up for grabs include a state House seat in Broken Arrow where incumbent Rep. David Brumbaugh died while in office and a Senate seat in suburban Tulsa where Sen. Dan Newberry is stepping down to pursue a private-sector career opportunity.
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