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OKG Newsletter


He did what?

By Scott Cooper April 24th, 2008

Gov. Brad Henry's endorsement of presidential candidate Barak Obama is both shocking and important.

First the shock. The endorsement is out of character for the governor. In 2004, Henry stayed away from the bickering candidates who were cris-crossing the state. At the time, Oklahoma was a very competitive state on the Democratic side with several candidates in the mix to win Oklahoma's delegates. Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt was familiar with the state and had the backing of the labor unions. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was supported by some of the heavy Democratic hitters like Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

It took hours after the voting ended in Oklahoma on that Super Tuesday night in March of 2004 before Gen. Wes Clark eked out a win over North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

It was one of the best presidential primary elections Oklahoma ever witnessed. It seemed like a candidate was flying into the state on an hourly basis in the weeks leading up to the vote. And Oklahoma was the last state out of dozen to declare a winner that election night which meant the cable news networks were focused on Oklahoma for a few hours.

But through all of that, Henry stayed out of the mix.

He was on track to do the same this year, refusing at first to endorse any candidate before the national party convention in August. When asked about his preference, Henry just stuck to the old faithful line politicians use when none of the candidates appeals to them: "I will support the nominee."

That changed Wednesday morning. Henry's out-of-political-body experience is hard to figure out. It goes against the conventional wisdom for Oklahoma politics. Hillary Clinton has strong support in Oklahoma. Her biggest fan, former state Attorney General and political pundit, Mike Turpen, has also been a strong surrogate for Henry.

It goes against the political grain in Oklahoma to endorse Obama. Clinton easily won the state's primary back in February.

So what caused Henry to shed his usual political savvy intellect and gamble with an early endorsement of the candidate who has now lost three primaries in a row? Only those closest to Henry know. It is interesting to note Henry's support for Obama comes days after the governor's political Jedi master David Boren endorsed Obama.

Henry also has three daughters who might have influenced his decision as well. Several Obama backers have said it was their children who talked them into backing Obama.

Whatever the case, Henry's declaration is huge. With the race between Obama and Clinton as tight as any in American history, every super delegate is precious. The support of a governor in a red state weighs heavy in the primary season. Obama's weakness has been rural white support. But now, Oklahoma's two biggest Democrat party names, Henry and Boren, two white men from rural parts of the state who became governors, are supporting a black candidate for president.

This is shocking and important in so many ways. - Scott Cooper

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