These are two fairly red states with decidedly different dynamics this year. First, we will look at Oklahoma.
The current House delegation favors the GOP 5-0, although there is an open seat in the First District being vacated by Jim Bridenstine who opted for a job in the Trump administration with NASA. That race went to a runoff with wealthy businessman Kevin Hern eventually defeating Tulsa County district attorney Tim Harris by ten points. Hern invested heavily in this race with his personal wealth. In the initial primary, the anti-tax Club for Growth went heavily after Hern and the fact he donated to Democrats in the past. Bridenstine, a popular Congressman, was also perturbed with Hern for him using Bridenstine in certain ads and the fact that Hern poll-tested Bridenstine in 2016 with what he calls “lies.” However, in the runoff and after, Bridenstine has held back on criticism, as did the Club for Growth.
In the open gubernatorial race, it took a runoff for wealthy businessman Kevin Stitt to defeat Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornet. On the Democratic side is Drew Edmonson who won his primary outright. The race is open because current Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited. She will leave office with the lowest approval rating of any governor in the country with a dismal 17% (against 72% disapproval). Hence, the Democrats believe they have an opportunity here if they can link Stitt to Fallin.
And, in fact, they have uncovered footage of Stitt saying he agrees with Fallin on almost every policy issue. Oklahoma was one of those states that were privy to teacher strikes and although they are the lowest paid in the nation, Stitt came out in opposition to their situation. Additionally, the Democrats have been making hay about two other subjects. The first is Stitt’s business, Gateway Mortgage. They came under scrutiny during the 2008 financial crisis. They ended up paying fines in three states and lost their license in Georgia. The other issue, brought to light by the Daily Beast, is Stitt making comments that seem to indicate he favors parents foregoing vaccinations for children.
It is hard to believe that a state like Oklahoma is ready or willing to elect a Democratic Governor. Fairly accurate polling indicates a Stitt victory at this point, albeit a narrow one, and this writer has to believe that as Election Day nears, undecided voters will break toward the GOP, so let’s keep this one in the GOP column.
A Senate race featuring an incumbent Democrat in a red state that voted heavily for Trump and where he remains popular and a controversial incumbent Republican Congressman are the races in Montana this year.
In the Senate race, Democratic incumbent Jon Tester faces Republican Matt Rosendale. Ranching is big in Montana and Tester and his allies have not been shy about portraying Rosendale as a carpetbagging, fake rancher. The League of Conservation Voters has invested heavily in that line of attack. On the issues front, Montana and outside liberal groups are touting the fact that Rosendale allegedly said that a 23% increase in health insurance premiums for Montana residents was acceptable. Further, he allegedly said that the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action assured him they would support his efforts to unseat Tester. If that is true, it would violate campaign finance laws since outside groups cannot coordinate their efforts with candidates lest they lose their IRS tax-exempt status. On the positive side, many of the ads from Tester portray him as a lifetime resident and rancher.
Rosendale, however, has not been sitting back and taking the attacks. He is up with commercials accusing Tester of taking a $25,000 excursion to Israel along with his wife paid for by special interests and later voting for certain earmarks. They are also attacking him over a trip to Cancun in 2006 with Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Another issue being brought up is Tester’s role in torpedoing the effort to have Ronnie Jackson confirmed as VA Secretary. Rosendale accuses Tester of leaking the presence of a Pentagon investigation into alleged fraud and drinking to the media. Additionally, Trump has ventured to Montana to support Rosendale’s efforts and Trump remains popular in Montana. And one commercial alludes to Tester’s vote against Kavanaugh by placing his picture next to uber-liberals like Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein.
McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund PAC has reserved about $1 million in advertising in this race and no more despite the relatively low cost. However, Trump’s America First is filling in the gap with $1.5 million in advertising.
There is a lot of money pouring into the race, but in the end with Tester leading by about 4.5 points in the average of polls and the fact he sports a relatively impressive 52% approval rating, it is hard to see this seat flipping in 2018. This writer is not even going to revisit the race and is putting it in the Democrat’s column.
In the House race, incumbent Democrat Greg Gianoforte, who famously punched out a reporter two years ago, faces Democrat Kathleen Williams. Although Gianforte is portraying her as an out-of-touch liberal for Montana who wants to abolish ICE and will be a patsy for Nancy Pelosi. She is calling for overall change in Congress and has said she will not vote for Pelosi for Speaker, should the Democrats gain control of the House. However, one area of vulnerability for Williams is her stated support for the Iranian nuclear deal that was forged by the Obama administration and which the Trump administration pulled out of.
Just as I cannot see Tester losing this race, neither can I see Gianoforte UNLESS there truly is a blue wave. Both seem secure in their current positions.
At the end of this entry, the numbers are:
US Senate 30-24 Republican, US House 71-54 Republican, and Governors 18-9 Republican.
Tomorrow, we visit two southern states- Virginia and Georgia.