Kevin Stitt rides outsider status to easy win in race for governor

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Kevin Stitt. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier
Republicans retained their one-party control of all statewide elected offices as well as control of both houses of the Legislature on Tuesday night, including the governor’s office as Republican candidate Kevin Stitt easily cruised to victory over Democrat Drew Edmondson.

In his victory speech, Stitt raised his hand above his head and thanked Jesus before talking of running Oklahoma more like a business.

“It’s time folks, to fix our broken government and to bring our agencies into the 21st Century,” Stitt said, flanked by his wife and six children. “… It’s time for smart government that is customer-oriented and focused on delivering core services.”

The mood was festive at the Oklahoma GOP watch party in Oklahoma City. The crowd swayed and pumped their fists to the Twisted Sister song “We’re not Gonna Take it” — a favorite at President Donald Trump rallies. Make America Great Again hats dotted the crowd.

As the night wore on, it became clear Republicans would hang on to every statewide elected office.

“Is this an exciting night or what,” newly elected GOP Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn said in her victory speech. “Looks like we won the whole slate.”

In his acceptance speech, Kevin Stitt thanked Jesus and talked of running Oklahoma more like a business.

Posted by The Frontier on Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Joy Hofmeister, who won re-election as the state superintendent, credited the wins to the passage of a historic revenue package to fund teacher pay raises earlier this year, although the new funding failed to stave off a teacher walkout.

“The Republican Party is about investing and I believe we are going to continue to strategically invest in our kids, our schools and our future,” she said.

Stitt’s campaign slogan, “Oklahoma’s Turnaround Starts Right Here, Right Now,” ran across the scroll bar in red, white and blue above the entrance of the Bricktown Event Center.

Though the most recent polls showed Edmondson within striking distance of Stitt, registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats in Oklahoma by a substantial margin, while the number of Independent voters is growing.

The number of registered Republicans has swelled 14 percent since 2014 to more than 1 million, while the number of registered Democrats declined 11 percent to 781,091 voters the same period, according to the Oklahoma State Election Board. The number of registered Independents grew 28 percent to 327,895 over the same period.

The race between Stitt and Edmondson appeared close in early voting returns, mostly made up of absentee and early voting ballots, but a few hours after polls had closed, it was evident that Stitt would glide into an easy victory.

This year’s governor’s race was the most expensive in state history, with numerous Republicans running during the primary, and a Republican runoff between Stitt and former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

Oklahoma Ethics Commission data shows that Stitt’s campaign raised more than twice as much as Edmondson’s, and although about half — around $5 million — of Stitt’s war chest came from his personal funds, he was still able to outraise Edmondson by more than $1 million from donors. Several outside groups also participated in the race, both Democrat and Republican groups went on the attack against the candidates.

Edmondson’s watch party in Oklahoma City on Tuesday evening started out with what seemed a hopeful atmosphere. But as the returns rolled in, showing Edmondson trailing by a significant amount, the mood began to turn toward resignation.

Korey and Angel Eakers of Oklahoma City attended Edmondson’s watch party. The results, they said, were disappointing.

“Why would you vote for somebody who was endorsed by a governor who everybody agrees was shitty and a president most people think is shitty and expect different results,” Korey Eakers said.

“This is one place where people put party over principles. I’m not a huge Edmondson fan, but he was far better than Stitt. If he (Edmondson) had an R next to his name, he would have won.”

Angel Eakers said she thought many voters were motivated by fear of people she said have been demonized by Republican politicians.

“You have people voting against their own values, but turn around with the same forked tongue and say they’re not,” Angel Eakers said. “It’s not about faith, it’s about fear.”

Edmondson struck a different tone in his concession speech, calling teachers the “heart and soul” of his campaign and encouraging Democrats to not lose hope in turning their fortunes around in the solidly-red state.

“It was a hell of a campaign until the returns,” Edmondson told the crowd. “Even though we are not victorious tonight, I am comforted by my renewed faith in the decency of our fellow man. Hope lives infinitely in you.”

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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