- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A wave of political newcomers with ties to public education and a general anti-incumbency sentiment among voters are both interesting wrinkles this election cycle, a group of political strategists agreed Friday during a panel discussion about next week’s primary election.

A bipartisan panel of experts weighed in on some of the state’s top races in next Tuesday’s election during a “Political Junkies” luncheon sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Political Communications Center.

Republican strategist and pollster Pat McFerron says a potential litmus test for educators challenging incumbents is Senate District 45 in the southwest Oklahoma City metro area. In that race, first-term incumbent Sen. Kyle Loveless faces a primary challenge from longtime Mustang High School teacher and coach Mike Mason. A third Republican in the race is Houston Wells of Oklahoma City.

Several former public school teachers and administrators are among dozens of political newcomers who filed for office this cycle amid frustration with the Republican-controlled Legislature over education budget cuts and low teacher pay.

There seemed to be consensus among the panel that all of the state’s five incumbent Republican U.S. House members appear to be taking seriously the GOP primary challengers they’re facing this cycle, especially because there appears to be so much anti-incumbency sentiment among the electorate.

“I think every incumbent will win,” said Chad Alexander, a GOP strategist and former state party chairman. “All of the incumbents have run real campaigns to protect themselves.”

The two congressional races drawing the most attention are the 1st District in the Tulsa area and the 2nd District across eastern Oklahoma.

At the state level, there are a handful of high-intensity races, especially for open seats, said Democratic strategist Ben Odom, a Norman attorney. Among those are contests for an open Senate seat in the Ada area being vacated by term-limited Democratic state Sen. Susan Paddack. The Senate District 13 seat includes parts of five central-Oklahoma counties and has both Republican and Democratic primaries.

“You may not be seeing a lot of overt political activity where you live,” Odom said, “but there are pockets of the state where there are some real barnburners.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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