OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Voters have picked their nominees for seats in the Oklahoma House and Senate.
This fall, they'll decide whether Republicans or Democrats will have political control of the lawmaking chambers.
The race for dominance of the Oklahoma Legislature is under way following primary elections Tuesday where voters chose party nominees for all but five House and Senate seats. Those undecided nominees - one Democratic and four Republican - will be decided in runoff elections on Aug. 26.
The nominees will face each other in a general election on Nov. 4 that will decide whether Republicans maintain control of the House and take control of the Senate for the first time in state history.
Republican leaders are predicting a GOP takeover in the 48-member Senate, which has historically been controlled by Democrats and is currently tied with 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans.
Republicans have held a 57-44 advantage in the 101-member House since 2004, when they took control of the chamber for the first time in 80 years. Leaders from both parties are predicting they will pick up seats in the House this fall.
“I'm convinced that we're going to be very close,” said Democratic Floor Leader Danny Morgan of Prague. The Oklahoma Democratic Party has recruited a strong cadre of candidates who have been involved in their community and are well known by local voters, Morgan said.
“You maintain control by winning seats. And you win seats by having the better candidate,” said Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, Democratic floor leader. “We went out and recruited what we consider to be very good candidates.”
Senate co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said GOP legislative candidates were buoyed by Tuesday's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in which state Sen. Andrew Rice received only about 60 percent of the vote to defeat Jim Rogers, a perennial candidate who raised and spent no money in the election.
Rice lost to Rogers in some southeastern Oklahoma counties that are traditional Democratic strongholds.
“It showed vulnerability. It shows opportunities for us,” Coffee said.
He said Senate Republicans have picked up an average of two seats per election cycle over the last five cycles. Republicans need just one more seat to capture the majority in the Senate.
“We like our chances but we don't take anything for granted,” Coffee said. “We're optimistic that we'll have the majority, but we'll let the results speak for themselves.”
Democrats said they are targeting incumbent Republicans who hold seats in traditionally Democratic areas as well as open seats held by Republicans who are leaving office due to term limits or retirement.
In Senate District 31, Democrat Keith Erwin of Lawton is opposing GOP Sen. Don Barrington.
“That's a Democratic district. In registration and performance, it's a Democratic district,” Laster said.
Democrats are also concentrating on the Senate District 37 seat being vacated by term-limited Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward. Democrat Bowdy Peach of Mooreland will face Republican Bryce Marlatt of Woodward in the general election.
Republicans are working to capture the seat of term-limited Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater. Democrat Robert Murphy, a former Payne County associate district judge, will meet Republican Jim Halligan, former president of Oklahoma State University, in the general election in Senate District 21.
Coffee said the GOP is also focused on taking at least two seats held by Democrats. Sen. Nancy Riley of Tulsa, a former Republican who switched parties two years ago, faces Republican Dan Newberry in the general election, and Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, is opposed by Republican Kenny Sherrill of McAlester in District 7
“We think there's opportunity in McAlester. We've got a strong candidate down there,” he said.
In the House, both parties are targeting open seats as they work to strengthen their political positions.
“Generally, it's much easier to get a win in an open seat than in an incumbent seat,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell. “It makes it easier.”
Morgan said Democrats are focused on taking seats held by retiring GOP Reps. Greg Piatt of Ardmore and Susan Winchester of Chickasha.
Democrat John Moore, a two-term Ardmore mayor with 13 years of service on the city council, is running for Piatt's District 48 seat against Republican Pat Ownbey, and Democrat Harold Jackson is running for Winchester's District 47 seat against Republican Leslie Osborn of Tuttle.
“We believe we have very strong candidates in both of those open seats,” Morgan said.
Democrats are targeting at least two seats held by Republicans, he said. Democrat Eugene Blankenship of Muskogee is opposing GOP Rep. George Faught in District 14 and Pontotoc County Commissioner Gary Starns of Ada opposes GOP Rep. Todd Thomsen in District 25.