by Patrick B. McGuigan and Stacy Martin
Editors of The City Sentinel
After a final burst of frenzied campaigning that featured a speech at a state Capitol rally on Sunday by Rick Santorum and an election eve visit from a trio of surrogate speakers for Newt Gingrich, Oklahoman Republicans prepared to cast their ballots Tuesday (March 6) in what seems likely to emerge as the most significant state presidential primary in history.
Oklahoma’s 43 Republican delegates could be apportioned among three, possibly four, candidates after tomorrow’s results are clear.
Democrats, still the majority party, were encouraging party faithful to get to the polls to back incumbent President Barack Obama.
A recent SoonerPoll found Santorum with a comfortable lead over Mitt Romney in mid-February, with Gingrich trailing (in third) but above the 15 percent threshold needed for delegates. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was in single digits, as were the candidates who have suspended their campaigns.
Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, spoke Sunday before several hundred supporters, and about a dozen demonstrators known as members of Occupy OKC. The latter group tried to shout him down for about 20 minutes, before being asked to leave by state Capitol police.
Santorum was philosophical about the demonstrations, telling The City Sentinel and other reporters he respected the right of protest.
On Monday (March 5), a trio of surrogate speakers came to Oklahoma on behalf of Gingrich, a Georgian and former U.S. House Speaker. Former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, onetime candidate and retired Domino’s Pizza executive Herman Cain and Jackie Cushman Gingrich, one of the Gingrich daughters, spoke to a rally at the Reed Center in Midwest City.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, visited the state in October and may finish second on Tuesday. He picked up a second set of coveted endorsements announced Monday, including former state Republican chairman Steve Edwards of Tulsa, former state Rep. Forrest Claunch of Midwest City, and activist Carol Hefner, who organized last month’s Lincoln Reagan dinner for the Oklahoma County GOP.
The Republican primary ballot has seven candidates – the active campaigners and three others: Rick Perry of Texas, Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and John Huntsman of Utah.
Oklahoma Democrats also have a race, with President Obama expected to roll to an easy victory. Four other Democrats are on the ballot: Bob Ely of Illinois, Jim Rogers of Oklahoma, Darcy Richardson of Florida, and Randall Terry of West Virginia. In all, 50 delegate slots are at stake in Tuesday’s balloting.
Terry, an ardent pro-life activist, recently campaigned in the state, backing the Personhood Amendment, an initiative drive aiming at the November ballot. Terry told The City Sentinel he hopes to get enough votes to deliver a jolt to the president’s chances for reelection.
Obama’s supporters, including former Governor David Walters, spent recent days encouraging turnout and participation in the primary. Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson and state Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City sent out press releases jabbing at Romney, the man they expect Obama to face in November.
Democratic faithful planned to gather at the state headquarters (4100 N. Lincoln Blvd) for refreshments and food, to watch the presidential primary results Tuesday night.
The Republicans, proud of their designation as “reddest of the red states,” planned a watch party for the Northwest Marriott (3233 N.W. Expressway). Scheduled speakers include Governor Mary Fallin, Lt. Todd Lamb, Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, and others.
In conversations with Capitol reporters last week, both Bingman and state House Speaker Kris Steele commented on the experience of watching Oklahoma, described Sunday by Santorum as the “lodestar of conservatism,” play such a significant role in the nominating process this year.