By Sean Murphy
The Associated Press
Hoping to ride a wave of tea party-style conservatism into the GOP primary election for the governor’s race, state Sen. Randy Brogdon is aiming to bring down U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, one of Oklahoma’s Republican stalwarts and a longtime party favorite.
Many consider the race a referendum on whether the energy on display at crowded tea party events across the state can translate into voter turnout on Election Day.
“It’s a real measure of the tea party movement as opposed to the mainstream Republican Party,” said Richard Johnson, chairman of the political science department at Oklahoma City University.
Fallin and Brogdon are the top contenders in a GOP primary field that includes Oklahoma City businessmen Roger Jackson and Robert Hubbard. The primary election is July 27. All are seeking to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.
Brogdon, the owner of a heat-and-air business, has been a frequent guest at tea party events across the state, touting his message of state’s rights, limited government and adhering to constitutional principles.
“We have taken our eyes off what is important to us as a nation, and that is our American birthright of freedom,” Brogdon told a group of about 200 at a recent Garfield County GOP event. “I believe in a return to the founding principles that made us great.”
Charlie Meadows, a white-bearded man in denim bib overalls, said Brogdon’s message resonates with members of his Oklahoma Conservative PAC, a longtime fixture of the state GOP’s right wing that has seen an infusion of membership from the strong tea party movement in Oklahoma.
“He’s a free-market, free-enterprise capitalist, and that’s very important to our members, to believe in that,” Meadows said.
But Brogdon’s style of conservatism sparked controversy in April after he told The Associated Press in an interview he supported the idea of a state militia that could be used to stop federal encroachment into state’s rights. Brogdon later retreated from that position after public backlash over his comments and said he was referring to a National Guard-type of citizens militia to aid the state during civil emergencies.
But while Brogdon’s message is well received at tea party events, Fallin also carries conservative credentials, and Republican voters are used to seeing her name on the ballot.
A two-term member of the Oklahoma House, Fallin ran successfully for lieutenant governor in 1994, becoming the first woman and first Republican elected to the post. She successfully defended her seat in 1998 and 2002 before being elected to Oklahoma’s open 5th District congressional seat in 2006.
“I’m a conservative,” Fallin told voters during a campaign stop in Enid. “I have a 96 percent lifetime conservative ranking. I have an ‘A’ rating from the NRA. I’m 100 percent pro-life. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not going to increase taxes.”
Fallin’s message has centered on the creation of jobs, economic development and policies to attract more businesses to Oklahoma. While she supports lowering taxes, Fallin says she would like to see Oklahoma’s economy, which saw a nearly $1 billion drop in state revenue last year, recover first.
Fallin also has raised $1.7 million for her campaign, according to the most recent Ethics Commission reports, compared with Brogdon’s $224,000.
But what undoubtedly will boost her campaign is her familiarity with voters like 86-year-old Blynn Spearman, whom Fallin met with during a recent visit to a retirement center for low-income seniors in south Oklahoma City.
“I think she’s very gracious to come here and do this,” Spearman said. “She just seems like one of the family.”