Political newcomer comes from behind with call for reform
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt has won the Republican nomination for Oklahoma governor in his first try for political office, defeating veteran politico Mick Cornett, who led the state’s largest city for 14 years.
Stitt took 55 percent of the vote in the August 28 runoff to 45 percent for Cornett, who had come out on top of the first round of primary voting in June.
But in a state roiled by a teachers’ strike earlier this year that shuttered classrooms, Stitt’s message of reforming state government touched a nerve among voters.
“We can demand that our state government be held accountable and transparent and unify our state for a bold new future,” Still told supporters at a victory party in Jenks. “The answers to our problems (are) not bigger government. It’s smaller government and smarter government.”
Stitt, 45, the founder of Gateway Mortgage, was considered a long shot when he entered the race against a field that included Cornett and Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, In addition to his reform message, Stitt was helped by $3 million of his own money that he plowed into the campaign.
In the runoff, he swept Tulsa and most of the rural parts of the state, overcoming Cornett’s lead in metro Oklahoma City.
Cornett, 59, was the better-known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.
Speaking to his supporters in at a watch party in the capital, Cornett said he would have “nothing but positive memories” of the campaign, although he indicated that the defeat was likely his political swan song.
“There’s a really good chance my name will never be on another ballot,” he said. “So you need to understand tonight as I step away from the political scene how much I’ve always loved the opportunity to represent you.”
While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor in Edmundson, 71, who comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011.
One plus for Democrats may be Fallon’s weak approval ratings, which tumbled in the wake of the teachers’ strike. A Morning Consult survey released in July found she was the nation’s least popular chief executive, with an approval rating of just 19 percent.
Oklahomans also have a recent tradition of rotating Democrats and Republicans in the governor’s chair. Of the state’s last six chief executives, six have been Democrats and six Republicans.