- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

The Oklahoma Senate race is dead even going into the final month — bad news for Republicans who thought it would be a sure bet for their candidate, former Rep. Tom Coburn.

Oklahoma went solidly for President Bush in the 2000 election, but Mr. Coburn’s campaign against Democratic Rep. Brad Carson has struggled.

Mr. Coburn, who is a physician, has faced accusations in the past month that he sterilized a woman without her consent 14 years ago.

Mr. Coburn also was hurt by some off-the-cuff comments — calling the Oklahoma Legislature during an August town-hall meeting “a bunch of crapheads,” and saying that the problem with the Cherokees living in his former congressional district “is that most of them aren’t Indians.”

Polls in August showed Mr. Coburn leading in the race, but in the past month other surveys have indicated that Mr. Carson has pulled ahead.

“Things are going great out here in Oklahoma, and Oklahomans are seeing Brad Carson has a plan for Oklahoma,” said Kristofer Eisenla, spokesman for the Carson campaign.

Each campaign says that the opposition is out of touch with average Oklahomans.

In a debate Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Carson called himself a “maverick” and called Mr. Coburn a “gadfly” hostile to the interests of the state.

“A gadfly is someone who is a critic. And Tom has opposed the key bills that help our state,” Mr. Carson said. “The road bill, Tom is opposed to it; the farm bill, Tom is opposed to it; the prescription-drug benefit for seniors, Tom is opposed to it; the Patriot Act, Tom is opposed to it. … That’s the kind of criticism that doesn’t result in a positive outcome for the people of our state.”

Mr. Coburn countered that funding some of those provisions is bankrupting the nation and that Congress is leaving the bill to future generations.

“Is it good for us … to spend away the standard of living of our kids and give them something different than the heritage that was left of this country, where we have a history of sacrifice and service in the style that John Kennedy reminded us of?” Mr. Coburn said.

Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), blamed “D.C. Democrats” for “negative attack after negative attack” in the Oklahoma campaign.

Republicans have accused Democrats of leaking to the press documents from a 1991 lawsuit filed by Angela Plummer, who says Mr. Coburn sterilized her without her consent after performing an emergency surgery.

At a press conference last month in Tulsa, the woman admitted she was bleeding to death from an ectopic pregnancy — when a fetus develops inside a fallopian tube instead of in the womb — and that Mr. Coburn’s Nov. 7, 1990, surgery to remove the ruptured tube saved her life.

In her lawsuit, Miss Plummer said the doctor did not obtain her permission to sterilize her by removing her other, healthy fallopian tube. Mr. Coburn said the woman, a Medicaid patient who was 20 at the time of the operation, had begged him to sterilize her after each of her previous two childbirths.

Though the woman eventually dropped her lawsuit, critics say Mr. Coburn’s actions in that case contradict his pro-life political stance and that he committed Medicaid fraud because Medicaid does not pay for sterilization of any patient younger than 21.

The former Republican congressman once led the race, according to polls, by as many as 12 percentage points in a state that Mr. Bush carried by a 24-point margin in 2000. Mr. Coburn has trailed in most recent polls, but Republicans say they aren’t pushing the panic button.

The NRSC’s Mr. Allen says Mr. Carson can’t withstand the reality of his liberal voting record in Washington.

“We ran an ad about Carson’s liberal record and his votes in Washington, which are in contrast to his rhetoric back home,” the Republican spokesman said.

After that ad aired, he said, an NRSC poll showed that voters’ rating of Mr. Carson as a liberal increased from 17 percent to 29 percent.

“That’s trouble in Oklahoma, and a D.C. liberal is not going to win in Oklahoma,” Mr. Allen said.

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