Oklahoma Democrats are still in rebuilding mode.
An electoral thrashing in 2010 left the party in shambles, and 2014 is a year to try to hold ground and maybe pull off a miracle or two.
Outnumbered by Republicans 108- 41 in the Legislature and holding no statewide seats, the best-case scenario for Democrats this year might be to pick off one or two more seats and put up a strong showing in a few of the statewide races, party leaders said.
Democrats successfully defended every incumbent in 2012 and picked up two House seats.
“Those were baby steps, but at least they are steps in the right direction,” Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins said. “There is reason for us to have hope that 2014 will be even better for us than 2012 was.”
The best chance for more steps this year might come in a few House and Senate districts in the Oklahoma City metro that offer a realistic chance for Democrats to grab some seats. House District 85, now held by Republican David Dank, is a seat at which Democrats anticipate a fresh face can make a run.
“I’m hopeful primarily because of the trend in general that urban districts are more in play for Democrats,” said Anna Langthorn, president of the Young Democrats of Oklahoma and campaign manager for Cyndi Munson, the Democratic challenger running against Dank. “Over time, that district has gotten more progressive.”
District 85, which includes northwest Oklahoma City, is one of a handful of urban districts that young, new Democrats hope will be a part of the party’s rebirth.
“Oklahoma sees itself as a state that is moving forward economically … we are attracting good young employees to the state,” said Collin Walke, the Democratic candidate challenging Rep. Jason Nelson in House District 87 in west Oklahoma City. “I think most of the studies I have seen reflect an attitude [in Oklahoma City] trending towards progressive policies.”
Walke is running in a district that actually has more registered Democrats than Republicans. However, that advantage hasn’t meant much in recent years, especially when you consider the state also has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
“You have people who identify themselves as Democrats, but you knock on their door and they are anything but,” Walke said. “It’s not the same kind of Democratic support that used to exist.”
Other newcomers hoping to advance the Democratic Party include John Handy Edwards (running in Senate District 40) and Jason Dunnington (running in House District 88). Mary Sosa is one of four Democratic candidates in House District 89, where some party leaders hope to tap into the district’s Hispanic roots.
“In [District] 89, you have a traditionally Hispanic area with a white voting base,” said Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, the House Democratic Leader. “It will be interesting to see if the Hispanic community comes out to support Sosa.”
Any path to taking back Oklahoma for Democrats over the next several years will most likely include building support in the state’s growing Hispanic community, which has doubled over the past decade.
Inman said his party’s best chance to increase its numbers in the Legislature would come in districts in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
“You look at trends in some of the urban areas that are turning more and more purple, and you will have districts in Tulsa and Oklahoma City that are more competitive for Democrats than they were in the past,” Inman said. “I feel pretty confident that we should be able to hold onto all of our seats; and to gain a seat or two would be an accomplishment, especially when most people think our numbers will continue to decline.”
CANDIDATES TO WATCH
It was just four years ago that Democrats held the governor’s mansion, but not many political observers expect the party to take it back anytime soon. Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, is expected to win reelection this year. But Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is challenging Fallin for her seat. A win by Dorman in November might be a political miracle, but even a strong showing in a loss could offer hope for Democrats in the near future.
House District 87 (West Oklahoma City) is represented by Jason Nelson, a Republican who has held the seat since 2008. However, Democratic challenger Collin Walke, an attorney from OKC, is making a strong push at the seat, and party leaders view it as a realistic chance for victory.
John Handy Edwards
Term limits have created an open seat in Senate District 40, which is currently held by a Republican. John Handy Edwards is the lone Democratic challenger for the seat, and this urban Oklahoma City district is another spot where party leaders believe they have a realistic chance to gain some ground.
Cyndi Munson is another political newcomer that Democrats hope can make a run at stealing back a House seat. She will challenge Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, who ran unopposed in 2012.