Friday, August 20, 2004

Democrats got the best Senate candidate they could have hoped for in Oklahoma with Rep. Brad Carson, but it might not be enough to defeat Republican candidate Tom Coburn in this conservative state.

Despite Mr. Carson’s conservative voting record and popularity, Mr. Coburn has key advantages, chief of which is support in Mr. Carson’s 2nd Congressional District. A practicing obstetrician, Mr. Coburn was a three-time elected representative for that district in the 1990s.

Both candidates are seeking to fill the spot being vacated by Sen. Don Nickles, a Republican who has served four terms.

“The Democrats have to win this one if they want to take back the Senate, and I don’t think they can win this seat,” said Keith Gaddie, University of Oklahoma political science professor and editor of, a blog and informational Web site on state and national politics.

The race has taken a dramatic shift in the past month.

An independent poll conducted by Consumer Logic before the July 28 primary showed Mr. Carson ahead of Mr. Coburn 42 percent to 39 percent and ahead of Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys 47 percent to 38 percent in one-to-one matchups.

But now, Mr. Coburn, after winning the Republican primary against Mr. Humphreys, holds a slight to wide lead over Mr. Carson, depending on the poll.

A Republican poll by Basswood Research released Aug. 8 had Mr. Coburn leading 44 percent to 32 percent. But a Democratic poll conducted by Harrison Hickman/Global Strategy Group released Wednesday showed Mr. Coburn leading Mr. Carson 45 percent to 43 percent.

Both polls surveyed 600 likely voters and had a margin of error of four percentage points.

“This race is going to be close, because we are going to be outmoneyed, outgunned and outmanned, mostly from outside of the state,” Mr. Coburn said. “This is a James Carville campaign. It’s about how do you hide your record … and undermine the other person.”

Mr. Coburn was recruited by the anti-tax, conservative political group Club for Growth, which has put its significant resources behind him.

Club for Growth Executive Director David Keating said his organization collected more than $360,000 in member contributions for the candidate, and has spent an additional $370,000 on pro-Coburn and issue-based ads.

“It’s a real strange thing that the Republicans didn’t back Coburn,” Mr. Keating said. “What we saw in Tom was, he is quite popular in Carson’s base because he was the congressman from that district. And two polls came out in the primary that validated our belief.”

Mr. Carson, who is running as a conservative Democrat, is working to prove to voters that his style is best and that Mr. Coburn is a radical who will not fight for Oklahoma farmers, health care and jobs.

Carson campaign spokesman Kristofer Eisenla said Mr. Coburn betrayed farmers when he “passed nearly 20 amendments to kill the farm bill” while he was in Congress.

“There are distinct differences between the candidates: Mr. Carson, who wants to fight for our state, and Dr. Coburn, who thinks that the consumer is not Oklahoma,” Mr. Eisenla said. “This is a man who went on the record saying that he doesn’t believe Oklahomans are his consumer and said ‘federal funding for farmers made him physically sick.’”

Mr. Carson is meeting one-on-one with voters touting his health care voting record, which includes bringing three community health centers to his district.

But Mr. Coburn said his opponent cannot hide his liberal record or tout his health care record when he is “in the hip pocket of the trial lawyers.”

“Unfortunately, some people run for office and have to mask what they do. He’s a bright young man, but the real difference is, this race is about him and his political career and for me this race is about the next two generations and I could care less about a political career,” Mr. Coburn said, expressing his disgust for the federal deficit.

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