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Oklahoma: It'll Be Henry vs. Istook in Gov. Race

Oklahoma voters went to the polls yesterday to select nominees for governor and for the open 5th district congressional race, along with as a variety of downballot offices.

The highest-profile contest was for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, which was won outright by Rep. Ernest Istook. Istook, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, took 55 percent of the vote to 31 percent for oilman Bob Sullivan, who spent liberally from his own pocket on this his first political race. Two other candidates split the remainder of the vote. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Democratic Gov. Brad Henry (D) crushed a nominal primary challenger.

Does Istook's somewhat surprising avoidance of an Aug. 22 runoff spell trouble for Henry? Probably not. Henry's 2002 victory over former Rep. Steve Largent (R) was perhaps the most shocking election result nationwide that year. And in the intervening three-and-a-half years, Henry has emerged as an astute politician, a savvy that's reflected in his strong poll numbers.

A survey done for the Tulsa World in early July showed Henry with a 57 percent to 29 percent edge over Istook. Henry also has a substantial financial advantage over Istook, having raised better than $3 million, compared with approximately $1 million for the congressman. At the end of June Henry had $2.6 million left to spend; Istook showed just $68,000 in the bank.

The one thing that gives Republicans hope is the strong Republican lean of Oklahoma. President Bush carried the state by 22 points in 2004, a two-point improvement on his showing from 2000. Aside from Henry, who won with 43 percent of the vote in 2002, Democrats have not won a Senate or governor's race since 1994. Can Henry win a two-way race with Istook? He is as well positioned as any Democrat could be in a state as red as Oklahoma.

The race to replace Istook in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District brought out a who's who of Republican candidates, with Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett advancing to the runoff on Aug. 22.

All told, six Republicans ran for the primary nod, with Fallin leading the way with 35 percent of the primary vote and Cornett running second with 24 percent. The race drew little attention, so it's not particularly surprising that the two best known candidates at the start of the campaign are the two who will vie next month in the runoff.

It matters little whether Fallin or Cornett emerges on Aug. 22. Bush won the district with 64 percent of the vote in 2004, and national Democrats won't spend a dime on their nominee -- surgeon David Hunter.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 26, 2006; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , House  
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