- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - When presidential candidates like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas visit a red state like Oklahoma, they’re doing more than boosting name recognition and organizing a ground game. They also are seeking an infusion of cash, especially from deep-pocketed donors in the state’s booming energy industry, to bolster their campaigns before next year’s primary elections.

While Oklahoma has its share of big-money donors, like Continental Resources Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm who gave nearly $1 million in 2012 to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, many contributors wait until later in the nomination process when the field has been winnowed and they can back the eventual nominee.

“There’s this corridor of wealth that runs from Dallas to Wichita (Kansas), and it’s chalk-full of people who have made big money in resource extraction,” said Keith Gaddie, chairman of the University of Oklahoma’s political science department. “These folks should be receptive to these GOP candidates. Any Republican is going to fit their needs for environmental regulation and for the tax code.”

Of the more than $6 million in contributions for 2012 presidential candidates pulled out of Oklahoma, nearly $4 million went to Mitt Romney, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan website that tracks campaign contributions.

That fact is obviously not lost on candidates like Cruz, who ended a bus-tour swing through several southern states with three stops last week in Oklahoma. Cruz, wearing cowboy boots and no jacket or tie delivered plenty of red meat to a conservative crowd of about 500 people from the back of a pickup truck in Oklahoma City before traveling to events in Bartlesville and Tulsa.

But his first stop in the capital city wasn’t publicized or open to the press - a visit with about 100 people at the “Wildcatters Club,” the political arm of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. The trade group represents independent oil and natural gas producers across the state and its members frequently contribute to GOP campaigns in the Sooner State.

“Oil and natural gas production is Oklahoma’s defining industry and whoever is elected in 2016 will play a key role in shaping our country’s energy future,” said OIPA spokesman Cody Bannister, who noted the association has not endorsed any presidential candidate this year.

And while Cruz is undoubtedly looking for big-time donors, he also made a fundraising pitch to smaller contributors at campaign stops, drawing a laugh from the crowd when he mentioned his website three times before asking for donations of any amount.

“When you do so, you’ve got skin in the game,” he told the audience. “You’re invested. Then it’s not my campaign, it’s our campaign.”

Mark Easter, a retired systems engineer from Tulsa who attended the Cruz event in Oklahoma City, said he and his wife have donated up to about $100 to about a half-dozen GOP candidates, including Cruz, and plan to give more once the field narrows.

“It’s that initial cash infusion that gives them the opportunity to present their message, and then the message either succeeds or fails on its own merits, and that’s how the system is supposed to work,” Easter said. “That’s what makes the system great.”


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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