Drew Edmondson is not afraid of sounding like a broken record. Last spring’s teacher strike? He supported it. The bill to hike taxes and fund the teacher pay raises? He supported it.
His opponent in November’s gubernatorial election, Republican Kevin Stitt, said that he would have vetoed the tax increase.
“I will keep bringing it up until they say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got it,’” Edmondson said in a recent interview with The Frontier.
“I’ll bring it up every chance I get.”
But the former state attorney general will have to do more than that if he’s to overcome the disadvantages Oklahoma Democrats face in state elections.
Some of those disadvantages are built-in, like the number of Republicans registered to vote in the state (967,538) compared to Democrats (782,046). Others are related to this specific race. In the Republican runoff, Stitt, a native Tulsan, not only easily carried Tulsa and most rural counties, he had large margins of victory in some southeast Oklahoma counties where Democrats have traditionally done well.
But to hear Edmondson tell it, the outcome last month might have been best case scenario. There is a larger gap policy-wise between him and Stitt than there would have been had Mick Cornett emerged from the Republican runoff.
“If they like (Cornett) because of the progress made in Oklahoma City, they’re more likely to be Edmondson voters than the other side.”
But first, he has to focus on motivating Democrats to “get registered and get out to vote,” and that’s what is on the agenda for September. But when October rolls around, the agenda will switch from fundraising and energizing his base. Then it will turn to snatching some votes from the other parties.
“The case has to be made to Independents and more moderate Republicans that what they want to happen in Oklahoma is more likely to happen under an Edmondson administration than a Stitt (administration),” he said. “We have a fairly neutral appeal to business people who believe the key to progress is education, effective mental health treatment, and bringing down the prison population. Those people know that is less likely to happen under the other side.”
“In people’s minds the campaign wasn’t really real in 2017. It’s real now.”
Drew EdmondsonDemocrat candidate for Oklahoma Governor
Reaching out to other political parties is a viable strategy, especially considering that Independents have made large registration gains in the past year. In fact, of new voter registrations prior to June’s primary elections, a larger percentage (30 percent) were Independent rather than Democrat (28 percent).
But back to teachers — Edmondson isn’t joking around. Sure, Stitt easily dispatched Cornett. But in the same election six lawmakers who publicly came out against teachers during the strike were defeated.
“And,” Edmondson said, “they were defeated by Republican voters. Those are the ones I’m talking to. The majority of voters in those races who believe that the funding mechanism for the pay raise was important.”
Incumbents who were opposed to raising taxes to fund a teacher pay raise in 2017 didn’t do well in last month’s runoffs. Six candidates who were against the tax package lost their runoffs and one incumbent won.
Rep. Tess Teague, R-Choctaw, voted against the tax package in 2017. She lost her race.
Rep. George Faught, a Republican from Muskogee, also opposed the tax package. His opponent won the runoff by less than 100 votes.
Rep. Bobby Cleveland told TV reporters during last year’s teacher walkout that educators should have been in the classroom instead of protesting at the Capitol. He lost by just 1 percentage point.
Rep. Jeff Coody, who told a group of students last session that the teacher walkout was “akin to extortion,” lost his runoff election by 16 points to challenger Trey Caldwell.
Regardless, Edmondson has a difficult climb, and given Stitt’s support in Tulsa and surrounding counties, the climb may be even tougher. But Tulsa is also Edmondson country, in a way. The former state attorney general has done well there historically.
“The last two times I was on a statewide ballot (2002 and 2006) I carried the state and Tulsa County with more than 60 percent of the vote,” Edmondson said. “Tulsa has traditionally been good territory for me.
“I don’t concede Tulsa to Mr. Stitt by any stretch. I expect to go toe-to-toe with him there.”
Edmondson said he’s seen and felt momentum for his campaign increasing since last month’s runoff.
“We’ve had 3,000 yard sign requests in less than a week,” he said, noting that a typical pre-runoff total might be five to 10 requests per day.
Edmondson will essentially be cramming an entire campaign into a short two-month window. He was expected to somewhat easily defeat his primary opponent (former State Sen. Connie Johnson) last June, so the question has been less about if he would make the general election and more about who his opponent would be.
And now that he knows, he said it’s game on.
“In people’s minds the campaign wasn’t really real in 2017,” Edmondson said. “It’s real now.”