Gov. Kevin Stitt was expected to coast to an easy victory in the November election in deep-red Oklahoma, but the race has tightened after the overturn of Roe v. Wade and attacks from dark money groups.
While the political climate in Oklahoma still favors Stitt, the latest polling from Oklahoma City-based firm Amber Integrated shows him with only a three-point lead over his Democratic challenger and current State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Another poll by SoonerPoll shows Stitt with only a one-point lead over Hofmeister.
RealClearPolitics and Cook Political Report have moved the Oklahoma governor’s race from “Safe R” to “Likely R,” a downgrade for Republicans, citing the immense amounts of outside attacks Stitt is enduring and recent polling.
If Hofmeister’s campaign continues to gain ground and she pulls off an upset win in November, she would be the first Democrat to win statewide office in Oklahoma since 2006.
Abortion ban backlash
Recent polls show more women voters have shifted to support Hofmeister following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization United States Supreme Court decision this summer that overturned Roe v. Wade.
According to Amber Integrated, 54% of women say they plan on supporting Hofmeister. Comparatively, back in June before the Dobbs decision, only 32% of women said they would vote for Hofmeister and 43% said they supported Stitt.
“I think the shift we’re seeing is a post-Dobbs suburban Republican woman taking a second look at who they’re going to support,” said Pat McFerron, a Republican consultant based in Oklahoma City.
Hofmeister has described herself as pro-life, though she believes a woman should have the right to choose whether or not to get an abortion. But women are still flocking to support her as an alternative to Stitt, who signed a near-total ban on abortion in Oklahoma with no exceptions for rape or incest.
“If you listen to Joy talk about abortion, it is not an extreme position she takes,” said Joe Hartman, a Democratic consultant and co-founder of the Oklahoma City based firm Skyfire Media. “Her stances on abortion, that I’ve heard, is what I think most women, if not voters in Oklahoma (believe) as well.”
Hofmeister has said she opposes Stitt’s “extreme abortion ban,” which is unpopular among even Republican voters, according to one poll.
A poll by Amber Integrated in August showed that 62% of likely Republican voters believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life, while only 19% believed abortion should be banned entirely.
Outside groups pour millions into attack ads
A new ad from The Oklahoma Project, an anti-Stitt Super PAC largely funded by dark money, bashes Stitt for not signing an anti-corruption pledge passed around by another group primarily funded by dark money called Clean Up Oklahoma.
Hofmeister and groups funded by dark money have tried to paint Stitt as corrupt after a scandal over Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Restaurant’s contract to operate restaurants at state parks that cost the taxpayers millions. Attacks on Stitt also followed a joint investigation between The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch earlier this year that revealed the state fumbled millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds meant for education, leading to a poor review from federal auditors.
“Oklahomans continue to have an unfavorable opinion of Governor Stitt and stand against his failed leadership and self-dealing,” Hofmeister said in a statement.
The television ad attacks on Stitt have cost more than $10 million according to spending data reviewed by The Frontier. This past week, the outside groups outspent Stitt on-air by a nearly 4-1 margin, the Cook Political Report found.
Polling shows the message could resonate with voters.
A poll released Wednesday by Amber Integrated and news station KOCO found that 60% of voters believe there is some corruption in state government and 26% believe corruption is rampant.
“That’s what I hear from Oklahomans when I’m traveling around the state, (voters) are tired of the extremes and they are tired of the division that Governor Stitt has brought and it results in chaos,” Hofmeister said in an interview in August.
Stitt’s campaign focuses on the economy and Joe Biden
While the Hofmeister campaign gains momentum, Stitt is keeping his message focused on the economy and is campaigning against President Joe Biden, who is widely unpopular in Oklahoma, polling shows.
“President Biden’s inflation crisis is out of control,” Stitt said at a press conference on Tuesday calling for the state Legislature to deliver inflation relief to Oklahomans. “And the Democrats in Washington are showing no signs of slowing down their spending spree. The bottom line, everything is more expensive and Oklahomans are hurting. I promised Oklahomans that I would always stand up and fight for the taxpayer. And that’s what I am going to continue to do.”
Stitt released a new campaign ad this month attacking Biden. While the message will appeal to Stitt’s Republican base, he still needs to rally the 7% of undecided voters, the majority of which are independents or Republicans.
Polling shows that 47% of Republicans say the economy and inflation motivates them to get to the polls, compared to only 11% of Democrats and 23% of independents.
“Kevin Stitt is going to win this race because Oklahomans know Kevin Stitt is fighting for them, cutting taxes, balancing the budget, and funding pay increases to every teacher,” Donelle Harder, Stitt’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Democrat and independent voters label education as their biggest priority, polling shows. Hofmeister believes the unpopularity of school vouchers in rural Oklahoma and amongst public school proponents will be a winning message for her, she said in an interview.
Despite polling, Hofmeister still has an uphill climb. And the Stitt campaign has yet to go negative or attempt to define her as a candidate.
“Right now, the race is a referendum on Stitt; it’s not a choice yet,” McFerron said.
Stitt’s campaign said in a statement that Hofmeister “supports tax increases, shutting down our public schools” and said she “marches in lock-step with Joe Biden’s liberal agenda that’s threatening Oklahoma.”
It’s a sign of what strategy Stitt could use in the weeks leading up to election day.
While Hofmeister is a former Republican and describes herself as “aggressively moderate,” having a “D” by her name automatically puts her at disadvantage in conservative Oklahoma.
Because of this, linking Hofmeister to Biden could help Stitt win votes, McFerron said.
“There is one trump card in this and that’s Joe Biden,” McFerron said. “Voters who go into the voting booth thinking about Joe Biden, they’re going to vote for Kevin Stitt. They’re going to vote Republican.”