Oklahoma’s “Super Tuesday” primary election, distilled, tells three stories.
First, Rick Santorum won the state, but Mitt Romney surged to a strong second place finish as results from the state’s urban areas poured in, leaving Newt Gingrich in third.
Second, Ron Paul’s once-promising campaign collapsed to single-digit support.
Third, President Barack Obama thumped four relatively unknown candidates, with about 55 percent support. His support neared 80 percent in the Fifth Congressional District (central Oklahoma, including Oklahoma City) and was over 70 percent in the First District (Tulsa County and surrounding areas).
However, in two of the state’s five districts the president’s support was under 50 percent. Consequently, both pro-life activist Randall Terry and perennial candidate Jim Rogers could wind up with delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
By 10:45 p.m., with 1,922 of 1,961 precincts reporting, Santorum had roughly one-third of the statewide Republican vote, with 93,515 votes (33.83 percent). Mitt Romney, running in third place until after 9 p.m. (when Tulsa and Oklahoma County results began to enter the election data), raced past Gingrich and into second. The former Massachusetts chief executive had 77,346 votes (27.98 percent), to the former U.S. House Speaker’s 75,984 (27.49 percent).
Rep. Paul had 26,686 votes, only 9,65 percent of the statewide Republican vote and well out of the running for delegates. In the campaign’s closing weeks, controversy dogged his to state organizer, Al Gerhart, whose attacks on other Republicans and on presumed alllied infuriated many of Rep. Paul’s best-known supporters, including several elected officials.
At the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City, held at the Northwest Marriott, a tired and happy Terry Allen, an Oklahoman serving as a key consultant for the Santorum campaign nationwide, said he was, simply, “thrilled” at the Sooner State results.
State Rep. David Brumbaugh of Broken Arrow, one of Santorum’s supporters in the Legislature, told CapitolBeatOK, “Rick Santorum resonates with Oklahoma’s voters. The people of Oklahoma saw in him the candidate who most closely aligns with our values. His understanding of federal issues and of foreign policy puts him at the top of the Republican candidates.”
Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, who on Sunday joined Santorum at a state Capitol rally, reflected, “Oklahoma is a conservative state, and we recognize a true conservative when we see one. Not only is Rick Santorum a strong and true economic conservative, he is also a man who resonates well with the party’s values-based voters. Santorum is the whole package.”
Some months ago, Romney supporters hoped he could win. By mid-January, however, a SoonerPoll found him roughly 15 percent behind Santorum. In the end, Romney kept Santorum’s margin to roughly 5 percent, and thanks to the urban tide he pushed Gingrich (who, late last year, was running first voter surveys) back to third.
Former state Rep. Thad Balkman, at a watch party for Romney supporters, told CapitolBeatOK the urban surge was anticipated but proved more dramatic than the campaign had hoped. He added, “The endorsement of Tom Coburn, a bona fide Oklahoma conservative, was critical. We just wish it had come a week earlier. That might have shifted just enough people to put the state in Gov. Romney’s column, or otherwise made the race even closer.”
Balkman said his candidate’s showing should “put to bed the arguments that he can’t appeal strongly enough to conservatives. In the most conservative state, he’s going to end up without one-third of the delegates.”
Another Romney backer, state Auditor Gary Jones, said in the final days he “hoped Romney could run a strong second, and he has.”
A venerable old man of the Grand Old Party, Al Snipes of Oklahoma City, did not disclose his preference, but reveled in the significance of Oklahoma’s Republican primary on the national stage. He said, quietly in a noise room, “Things have changed in Oklahoma, and for the better.”
Matt Pinnell, chairman of the state GOP said he was “thrilled that Oklahoma is so much in the mix this year. We sold the idea, and the candidates embraced it, of this as the reddest of the red states.
Pinnell was neutral in the race, encouraging visits from all the leading candidates, and then reveling in their presence on the state’s political stage. Concerning Santorum, he said “without a doubt” the party can unite behind the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, should he be the nominee.
He observed, “Any of these candidates provide a clear contrast to Barack Obama, and elections are about contrasts and choices. The Republican nominee will be strong against Obama in November. As for the critics of our candidates, remember that people said in 1980 that Ronald Reagan couldn’t win. We know how that turned out.”
In the Democratic race, at 10:45 p.m. CST — with 1,922 of the state’s 1,961 precincts reporting – President Barack Obama had 63,028 votes (56.98 percent). Statewide, his strongest opposition came from Terry, who had 19,967 (18.05 percent).
However, the president was being held below 50 percent in two congressional districts. In the Second District (the eastern one-third of the state, geographically), Obama had about 42.26 percent to Terry’s 25.4 percent. In the Third District (the west), Obama had 47.62 percent to Terry’s 22.10 percent. Terry’s showing in the two districts could yield him delegate seats.
Securing Obama a statewide victory was his showing in the Fourth District (over 53 percent), the First District (i.e. Tulsa) where he had 71.2 percent backing, and the Fifth District (Oklahoma City area) where he 77.5 percent.