Day to Vote

Voters mark their ballots Tuesday at Pontotoc Technology Center.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s continued Republican dominance at the polls Tuesday night is only heightening a growing divide between the state’s rural and urban voters.

After Tuesday’s elections, Democrats largely control the urban seats, but Republicans now control the rest of the Legislature, said Cassi Peters, partner and owner of Skyfire Media, which provides campaign-consulting services.

And, even though the majority of Oklahomans live in the state’s largest urban areas, the minority party in the Legislature will now represent most of them, she said.

“My overall takeaway is I think what you’re seeing is more than a Democrat versus Republican thing. It’s a rural versus urban divide,” Peters said.

Driven in large part by rural voters, Republicans again won every statewide election, including the highly publicized gubernatorial race. They also claimed victory in four of the five U.S. Congressional races and added three new seats to the GOP supermajority in the state’s House. They also managed to oust House Minority Leader Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, and took control of both legislative seats in the McAlester area.

But in an unexpected upset, urban voters in the Oklahoma City area elected the state’s first female Democratic congresswoman, Kendra Horn. Republicans had controlled that seat since the 1970s.

And state Senate Democrats, meanwhile, gained a seat in that chamber for the first time in a general election since 1990.

“We learned we need to work harder to defend our rural seats, and we’ve got a lot of room to grow in rural Oklahoma,” said Anna Langthorn, chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

Democrats have traditionally dominated rural politics, but that’s been changing. Langthorn said her party is now struggling to connect with rural voters.

“Particularly in rural Oklahoma in a place that is being left behind… (residents) feel very alienated, and the Republican Party has been doing a very good job messaging that,” she said.

State Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City, said Tuesday turned out “a little worse than expected.”

“I know it’s a tough morning for us,” he said.

Stone easily won his re-election bid.

“We all thought education was the issue of 2018 in Oklahoma,” Stone said. “I think (there were) a lot of high hopes that education was going to be lone focus, but instead voters weren’t overly focused on it.”

Still, the so-called “Education Caucus” — comprised of educators, school administrators and personnel — grew from nine to 25 overnight, said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Although many teacher candidates didn’t win Tuesday, she said education can remain a priority for both parties.

In Muskogee for instance, Democratic teacher Jack Reavis lost to Republican Chris Sneed. Sneed may not be a teacher, but his wife is and Sneed has promised to be an advocate for public schools, Priest said.

“That was a good race,” she said. “Our teacher didn’t win, but a pro-public education supporter certainly did.”

Priest said she’s less concerned about whether an “R” or “D” is next to a candidate’s name. She’s much more interested in the campaign promises made — and whether they’re kept.

“We’ve got to support our schools, and we believe those people that were elected will regardless of party,” she said.

Still, Peters, the campaign consultant, said Tuesday’s elections proved that rural Oklahoma is still very much U.S. President Donald “Trump’s America.”

While voters there worry about public education, they’re also very concerned about access to rural health care and the impact of national issues on their lives.

Oklahoma’s urban voters weren’t as focused on national politics. They cared more about public education, she said.

“I just think that our urban areas are just so different than rural Oklahoma right now,” she said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at