Brad Henry: political genius…or goofball?

Analysis:  With an approval rating that has hovered at about 75 percent for most of his tenure as governor, and the widespread perception he’s a smart politician, Brad Henry is not known as a man who makes mistakes.
But now, two recent actions by the governor have friend and foe alike questioning his political judgment:
~ His veto of an anti-abortion bill he almost certainly knew would be overridden by the Legislature, and
~ His endorsement of Barack Obama, who managed just 31 percent of the Democratic presidential primary vote here.

One Republican political observer believes the two actions show Democratic National Convention superdelegate Henry has concluded his future lies on the national stage rather than the Oklahoma stage because both actions link Henry to the most liberal side of his party while the perception has been that he’s a common-sense, moderate-conservative and it’s that perception, primarily, that has fueled his popularity.

A Democrat legislator, guaranteed he wouldn’t be quoted by name, said the Obama endorsement shows Henry "really is just a goofball politically. If Obama is our nominee, our candidates for the House and Senate start off with one foot in a hole and the other in quicksand…Clinton is bad enough, Obama is worse. Certainly, he must have thought of this and just disregarded it."

Henry’s endorsement of Obama stunned many and caught them off guard, particularly Democrats on the inside. A Capitol Democrat in a position to know says the initial reaction was disbelief, then concern. He said some were concerned after OU President David Boren endorsed Obama, but "he’s not the sitting governor and the titular head of his party" while Henry is.

This Democrat took note of a segment on KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City about the endorsement and noted the "vast majority" of those who sent in email comments were critical of it. He said some of those commenting "probably were Republicans, but this matches what I’m hearing overall."

He said he believes Henry’s endorsement of Obama makes it more difficult for Democrats who are seeking legislative seats. "Most of them can tolerate Clinton…," he said, without ending the sentence. Asked if Obama’s race is a factor, he acknowledged it may be in some areas. "But it’s the issues mostly. Clinton’s liberal, but he’s just off the scale and the Republicans will beat us to death. Clinton’s bad, Obama is much worse for us politically."

House Democrats plan a fundraiser Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and Henry is scheduled to attend, thus providing the first opportunity many will have to express their sentiments to Henry about his endorsment. Whether they’ll do so remains to be seen.

Most Republican operatives are salivating at the thought of Obama at the top of the ticket and they’re delighted Henry endorsed him. "It’s Henry showing his true colors," said one. Some of them believe the Obama endorsement diminishes Henry as an advocate for legislative candidates; he had been expected to be a potent force for those Democrats he supports. "How would you like to be a Democrat in Little Dixie, or down south or out east somewhere, trying to get help from your governor and he’s endorsed this way out liberal guy?" one Republican asked.

"Let’s see," said another. "We’ve got Obama at the top and then (Andrew) Rice (candidate for the U. S. Senate) and boy, I wouldn’t want to be a Democrat running for the Legislature in that mix."

Oklahoma City radio station KTOK’s Capitol reporter, Peter J. Reudy, reports there’s nervousness among Democrat legislators over the endorsement and notes that Republican State Chairman Gary Jones, seeeing an opening to score points, has called on Democrats in the Legislature who are seeking reelection to declare who they support for president.

Posters at, for the most part, derided Henry for his endorsement, with "Bill" beginning the discussion by writing, "I always thought he (Henry) was a liberal. This proves it." Others defended Henry, but one poster suggested Henry’s endorsement of Obama indicates he’s lost touch with Democrats across the state.

Henry’s endorsement, to some, seems to echo the dilemma facing other Democratic superdelegates across the country: Express your personal preference, or declare for the candidate who carried your state? In Henry’s case, he chose the first course and if all the undeclared superdelegates who remain chose the personal preference course and give the nomination to Clinton despite the national numbers that show Obama the leader, there could be chaos. As it stands now, Henry is in step with Obama’s numbers nationally but not in Oklahoma.

Whatever the case, Henry’s veto of the anti-abortion bill and his endorsement of Obama show he clearly is marching to the beat of a drum many of his fellow Oklahoma Democrats don’t hear.

About the Author:
Mike McCarville has covered Oklahoma politics and government since he became State Capitol Correspondent for The Tulsa Tribune in 1966. Since, he has been a governor’s press secretary, investigative reporter, television station news executive, radio station program director and talk show host, and political consultant. In 1980, he founded The McCarville Report and it is the nation’s longest-running state political publication. In its online version, it has been called "The best political blog" by Dr. Keith Gaddie, pollster and pundit and "Oklahoma’s venerable McCarville Report" by The Arkansas Times.  McCarville, also a real estate investor and commentator for the National Rifle Association on and Sirius Satellite Radio, is a regular contributor to Tulsa Today.