What’s more clear than the polling results is that Stitt’s stances on education and abortion and the bad headlines that have dogged him through his first term have caused some members of his own party to turn against him.
When SoonerPoll released a poll in mid-September, it found Stitt had a slight lead over Hofmeister, an advantage the firm said was due in part to the makeup of Oklahoma’s voter registration, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 500,000 voters as of September.
But a month later, those results had flipped. Hofmeister, possibly driven by an influx of dark money television ads targeting Stitt, found herself edging out the incumbent.
The Frontier spoke to more than a dozen registered Republican voters who said they won’t vote for Stitt in the Nov. 8 general election.
The voters said said they plan to choose Hofmeister instead, with most citing education and abortion. Scandals surrounding the businessman-turned-governor, including questionable spending for Swadley’s restaurants at state parks also weighed on voters’ minds.
Dia McGowen, a 49-year-old Woodward resident, told The Frontier she has consistently voted Republican her entire life, though she’s increasingly worried about the direction of the party.
“I guess I’m more open now, but I would happily vote for a Republican if I felt they weren’t far-right,” she said.
Some of the scandals Stitt has overseen in his first term have turned her off.
“The Swadley’s scandal, the way he treated the Veteran’s Commission, it bothers me,” she said. She told The Frontier she was especially displeased with Stitt’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the heavy-handed way he has treated board appointments.
In June, The Frontier reported that Stitt’s chief of staff had urged the state Veterans Commission to remove Joel Kintsel from his job at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs as Kintsel was gearing up for a gubernatorial run against Stitt.
After Kintsel lost the primary, Stitt fired the commission’s long-serving chairman, who had been critical of the governor.
“If you don’t agree with him, you’re gone,” McGowen said. “I think it’s shady.”
Stitt told The Frontier he hears from Democrats who support him because they fear the national Democratic Party has trended too far left.
Porter Cunningham, a 34-year-old Oklahoma City Republican, said he was increasingly fatigued by the stories that hound Stitt.
“It’s like almost every week there’s a new story,” he told The Frontier. “At some point you’re like how has this guy survived all of it?”
Janet Robinson, 65, lives in Oklahoma City and is a life-long Republican. She voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 and voted for Stitt in 2018.
“I try to stay with my party,” she said, noting she still identifies as Republican and conservative despite vowing to vote against Stitt next month.
She told The Frontier that Stitt signing the nation’s “strictest abortion ban” in May was the tipping point for her.
“I think it took away a women’s rights,” she said of the law, which bans abortion in the state except for a few exceptions. “I think it’s insulting to women that it’s always men who make those decisions.”
Robinson said she identifies as a Christian, but doesn’t believe her religious beliefs are incongruous with support for abortion access.
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“I don’t believe a true Christian would would look at it as murder,” she said.
For most voters who spoke to The Frontier, education was the biggest reason they decided to side against Stitt, and that issue bled over into the superintendent race between Republican Ryan Walters and Democrat Jena Nelson.
Walters, a former history teacher who was named Secretary of Education by Stitt, has crafted a divisive tone on the campaign trail, focusing mostly on culture war issues.
Jackson Lisle, a partner at Amber Integrated, an Oklahoma City-based polling firm, said their research shows many voters view Stitt and Walters “in a similar light.”
“They’re often campaigning together and appearing together at events,” Lisle said. “They say a lot of the same things and Walters was Stitt’s pick for this race, so I think it’s probably easy for voters to draw that connection.”
McGowen told The Frontier that while she hadn’t seen Hofmeister in person, she had seen Nelson, Walters’ opponent, and walked away impressed.
“I was super impressed,” she said. “Her ideas clicked with me and she’s super passionate for kids. I’ve never donated to a campaign before, but I donated to her and Joy, because I want them to win.”
Nathan Loftiss, a 37-year-old Altus High School assistant principal, told The Frontier he’d been a Republican his “whole life,” though he increasingly feels “politically homeless.”
“The (Republican) Party doesn’t really appeal to me these days,” he said. “Of course neither do the Dems.”
Loftiss said his frustration with the Republican party began as his teaching career began about a decade ago.
“It became apparent to me early on that the Republican party was doing everything they could to make life more difficult for an Oklahoma educator,” he said. “It’s just non-stop attacks against educators and policies that are not good for education in Oklahoma.”
In 2021, Oklahoma’s Legislature passed House Bill 1775, a law aimed at cracking down on what schools could teach about race and gender in the classroom. Many believed the bill was an attempt to keep “critical race theory,” an academic concept-turned conservative boogeyman, out of Oklahoma public schools. This summer, the state school board downgraded the accreditation of two districts, including Tulsa Public Schools, though a state investigation found the school system did not “directly violate” the law.
It’s those kinds of policies that irk Loftiss. Everyone in Altus just wants safety and the best education possible for students, he said. He groups Walters and Stitt together, he said, because Stitt appointed Walters and their talking points echo one another.
“The things they say make me see them as an enemy of education,” he said. “They’re so vocal about attacking our education system, and it ropes all schools and all teachers together, and attacks all of us. That’s a concern from almost every educator I know. I hope it is for voters, too.”
Loftiss said he feels comfortable voting for Hofmeister rather than voting against Stitt, and told The Frontier he believed Hofmeister “has Oklahoma values.”
“Oklahomans are independent thinkers and we share common values: families want strong neighborhood schools, the freedom to make their own health care decisions and opportunities for better jobs,” Hofmeister said in a statement to The Frontier. “Regardless of party affiliation, voters are standing together against the corruption and self-dealing that is holding our state back.”
Cunningham said he is increasingly turned off by politics. He feels like politicians are perpetually in campaign mode with no focus on governing. This election, he said, comes down to one simple request.
“I would like a return to decency, and to solving problems for the greater good of Oklahomans,” he said, “rather than fake problems we’ve created for campaign ads.”