Willa Johnson won the Democratic primary for the Oklahoma County Commissioner District 1 seat in the 72 hours before last Tuesday’s primary and she did it with a solid plan and hustle.
Here, based on what we’ve been able to learn from party insiders, observers and a few of her supporters, is how the Oklahoma City councilwoman did it despite "expert" opinion she’d finish third to Councilwoman Ann Simank and former State Rep. Debbie Blackburn:
ONE – Johnson organized an intensive voter turnout telephone effort in her City Council district and in the Spencer area, and reportedly had more volunteers willing to call their neighbors than she had telephones for them to use. Much of the calling, we’re told, was done by neighbors on their home phones from lists the Johnson campaign supplied. She also used robocalls with her trademark, "Where there’s a Willa, there’s a way!" line that seemed to stick in the minds of some voters.
TWO – Johnson designed and printed an oversized postcard that went to every Democratic household in the district. Apparently, she was the only candidate to do this throughout the district. The postcards arrived mostly on Saturday and Monday.
THREE – Johnson supporters reportedly printed handbills that were placed on windshields during Sunday services at northeast Oklahoma City churches.
– Johnson supporters blitzed neighborhoods in the district in 3- and 4-person teams on the weekend. In Midwest City’s Rolling Heights Addition (Northeast 10th and Air Depot area), observers reported a 4-man team leaving flyers on doors. They ignored homes where Republican Forrest Claunch’s yard signs were present and skipped some homes where his signs were not present; that could indicate they were working from a list of registered Democrats. (Claunch won the GOP nomination over former Jones Mayor Bill Hoag, 75-25 percent.)
Johnson’s 4-pronged ground game worked. She won the winner-take-all primary with 35.34 percent of the vote, besting Blackburn (34.01 percent) by just 80 votes. The totals were 2,119 to 2,039. Simank, believed by many to be the early front-runner, finished a distant third in the 5-person primary field.
Johnson apparently had the help of former Oklahoma Democratic Party operative Teresa Hill, who has close union ties, and Gary Jones, former head of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
Johnson drew much of her vote strength from Spencer, as well as northeast Oklahoma City. She won 20 (of the district’s total 105) precincts in those areas by huge margins.
Johnson’s elective career began in 1993 when she was elected to the City Council. She’s been reelected multiple times since. She’s active in numerous local groups and national municipal government organizations.
The District 1 commissioner’s seat was vacated when Jim Roth was named to the Corporation Commission by Governor Brad Henry.
About the Author:
Mike McCarville has covered Oklahoma politics and government since 1980 and publishes the McCarville Report
called "The best political blog." by Dr. Keith Gaddie, pollster and pundit and "Oklahoma’s venerable McCarville Report" by The Arkansas Times