2016 Oklahoma runoff post-game analysis

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David Beaudoin of the Local and Special Elections blog has added last Tuesday's Oklahoma Republican runoff results to his database and has noticed some interesting patterns and a few exceptions to patterns.

The percentage of primary first-place finishers who won the runoff was 78%, a bit higher than the five-cycle average of 73%, while margins of victory, were a bit closer than normal, but only three races were closer than 5%.

The big surprise was the range of variability of the ratio between runoff vote and primary vote. A drop-off is normal, with fewer races on the ballot and less media attention; on average about 70% of primary voters will show up for the runoff.

This year we had the rare event of a runoff with a higher turnout than the primary. 6,864 votes were cast in the three-way Senate District 41 Republican primary between Adam Pugh and Paul Blair; 7,969 votes were cast in the runoff, an increase of 16%. Runoff votes have only exceeded primary votes in one other race in the last decade -- the 2014 Democratic runoff for House District 89 between Mary Sosa and Shane Stone.

The Pugh-Blair SD41 runoff had all the adversarial energy of a general election campaign, and it illustrated the shift of ideological warfare in Oklahoma into the Republican primary. According to the most recent snapshot of campaign funding, Blair raised $61,810.00, received another $1,000.00 in in-kind contributions, and had $5,000.00 in loans, while Pugh raised $92,625.00, had $881.69 in in-kind donations, and $80,000.00 in loans. This is a massive amount of money to spend on 8,000 voters. Blair's funds came mainly from individuals and overwhelmingly from constituents; his only PAC contributions were $2,250 from the Oklahoma Conservative PAC, a grassroots group that holds an endorsement convention and funds candidates who receive a supermajority of support from the membership, and $250 from the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

Blair's involvement in national social conservative circles brought him endorsements and donations from David Barton of Wallbuilders, Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, and Kelly Shackleford of First Liberty Institute, but it also put a great big target on his back. Pugh's victory may reflect a growing symbiosis between business groups who shun social conservatism because they perceive it as bad for the bottom line and social revolutionaries who rally protests, boycotts, and negative news stories to ensure that standing up for conservative social policy is bad for the bottom line.

I am told that Pugh made a virtue of his lack of outside endorsements, but surely massive contributions and independent expenditures from a variety of PACs ($50,000 in PAC money, by my count) and lobbyists should count as outside support. Pugh was funded to the tune of by PACs connected with the State Chamber, the Tulsa Regional Chamber, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Chesapeake, Cox Communications, Farmers Insurance, Oklahoma Academy of Ophthalmology, Oklahoma Association of Insurance Agents, Oklahoma City Business Council, Oklahoma Land Title Association, Oklahoma Medical PAC, Oklahoma Pharmacists Association, Oklahoma Society of Anesthesiologists; Behavioral Health Association; Beer Distributors of Oklahoma; Oklahoma Bankers PAC; GOPAC Oklahoma, Renew Oklahoma PAC; Oil Patch PAC; among others. The State Chamber of Oklahoma spent $15,556 on independent expenditures supporting Pugh.

At the other end of the turnout spectrum, the Senate District 39 Republican runoff between Amanda Teegarden and Dave Rader only drew 44.5% of the voters who turned out for the June primary. Teegarden managed to retain 81% of her primary vote total, but that still left her 400 votes short. Rader was the beneficiary of Tulsa Regional Chamber PAC funding and independent expenditures from the Oklahoma State Chamber to add to his high-name recognition, but despite all those advantages, he managed to get only 60% of his primary vote to the polls for the runoff. Supporters of the other two candidates seemed to disappear.

An even worse turnout ratio wasn't on Beaudoin's chart, because it was a county race. The Tulsa County Court Clerk's runoff between Don Newberry and Ron Phillips to replace retiring clerk Sally Howe Smith, was the only county-wide runoff, and it drew only 33% of the voters who had turned out in June. Newberry polled 55% of his primary support; Phillips polled only 41% of his. Neither candidate went negative, and both could point to experience in the Court Clerk's office and endorsements by county-wide elected officials.

Compare that to Oklahoma County, where the runoff in David Hooten's successful effort to unseat five-term County Clerk Carolyn Caudill drew 75% of the vote total of the June primary. Caudill had finished first in June's four-way primary, but with only 32% of the vote. Hooten beat Caudill 65%-35% in the runoff. While Caudill retained 81% of her primary support, the anti-Caudill vote coalesced behind Hooten.

Rick Warren Jr., who became the incumbent Oklahoma County Court Clerk in an April 2016 special election, won renomination to a full term in a rematch of his March special primary, beating longtime Court Clerk employee Linda Amick Dodson. That race also brought 75% of the June primary vote total back for the August runoff.

MORE: Direct links to results and contribution reports:

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 30, 2016 6:03 PM.

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