J. C. Watts has some ‘splainin’ to do

Analysis:  If former Congressman J. C. Watts, now a Washington lobbyist who operates the J. C. Watts Companies, challenges Congresswoman Mary Fallin in the 2010 Republican primary for governor, he has some explaining to do to Republicans, some of them say.
For the past week, The McCarville Report Online has asked numerous Republican workers and party officials how Watts might fare in a 3-way primary with Fallin and Senator Randy Brogdon, who has formed an exploratory committee and is expected to run.
Most agree Watts would be a formidable opponent; he generally is well-liked and those who support him note he’s been on the ballot in the past, having won election to the Corporation Commission and to Congress from the 4th District. They concede, however, that his ballot experience doesn’t match that of Fallin, who served as lieutenant governor for 12 years and has won the 5th District seat in Congress twice.

It is what Watts has done as a lobbyist that now raises eyebrows and prompts one longtime party official to say he "has some ‘splainin’ to do if he runs" and another to echo that, adding he’s made some odd statements for a "conservative Republican."
"He all but endorsed Barack Obama," said a party official in northwestern Oklahoma.  "He never actually did it, but he sure as hell gave aid and comfort to the enemy by what he said."

Said a party official in central Oklahoma in an email:  "JC is seen as a DC person coming to OK to run against Cinderella!  When JC is exposed as a lobbyist for the ACLU, an infomercial spokesman for a company helping you get money from govt programs and that he publicly stated he supported Obama but just couldn’t endorse him…. When that story is told he has 0 support from every person I talked to.  If the background is not told then I would say he might have 25 to 30% support."

Said a party official in southwestern Oklahoma: "If JC is gonna get in – I hear he’s about 50/50 – sooner the better!  He needs to get in, before people line up solid behind Mary!  Makes it difficult to get them to change allegiance.  And, he’s been ‘gone’ awhile.  Think it would be a tough primary!  People love JC & they really like Mary!  So do I!  I would say…. on that scenario also….a 50/50."

Said a longtime party worker and Fallin supporter from southern Oklahoma: "Some elbowed Mary out of the governor’s race for Steve Largent (in 2002) and that got us eight years of Brad Henry.  Those same people, I hear, are now trying to trump her with J. C. and it’s not going to work.  She’s in the race to stay and she’ll win the primary and be elected governor."

In eastern Oklahoma, a veteran Republican who was a volunteer in Watts’ campaign for the Corporation Commission in 1990 said she’s confused by Watts: "He won that seat in Congress and could have stayed there forever.  Then he said he needed to make more money so he quit and became a lobbyist.  What’s he going to say now?  I’ve got all the money I need and I want to be governor?’  He hasn’t been involved in Oklahoma politics for a long time.  And all that time, Mary has been fighting the fight, building her credentials and gaining experience.  Over here, Mary will be very strong against anyone, even in the general election."

If Watts gets into the race, his lobbying work and list of clients is certain to be scrutinized.  His website lists present clients as ACLU – Voting Rights Act Coalition; Aetna; Albany State University; AT & T; Black Farmers and Agriculturalists; Black Television News Channel; Bowl Championship Series; Cable News Network (CNN); Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa; CompuCredit; D&B Specialty Foods; Falcon Properties; FM Policy Focus; Global Hue; Gospel Communications; Grambling State University; Hunt Building Company; John Deere; Keum Bong Construction; NASCAR; Mississippi Valley State University; National Association of Insurance Commissioners; Oklahoma Heart Hospital; Republic of Senegal; Robinson Aviation; Texas College; Turks and Caicos Islands; SAP America; Sepracor; United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee; Winn Companies.

Despite the questions some ask about Watts, others dismiss them as "just politics."

A Cleveland County party worker said Watts "isn’t quite the golden boy he was a few years back, but he has lots of support here and elsewhere. I suspect it would be a hot primary and a lot of money would be spent.  I think it’s a toss-up as to which one of them would win and then you throw Randy Brogdon, and probably a couple of others, into it and it could be very, very close."

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 NRANews.com and Sirius Satellite Radio, is a regular contributor to Tulsa Today.