Sabato's Crystal Ball

Oklahoma Senate 2004

Republican Tom Coburn faces Democrat Brad Carson

UVA Center for Politics October 22nd, 2004

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With the retirement of Republican senator Don Nickles, an interesting contest has broken out between two self-described outsiders: physician and former Representative Tom Coburn for the Republicans, and Representative Brad Carson for the Democrats.

Several factors have nudged this race left and right, but have eventually leveled out right down the middle. Tom Coburn entered with several demographic advantages –the most obvious one is that Oklahoma is a predominantly Republican state. The Sooner State has not had a Democratic senator since David Boren retired his seat in 1994 and it is a solid state for George W. Bush. Furthermore, Coburn’s congressional district encompassed what is now about 75 percent of Brad Carson’s congressional district, providing the Republican a foothold on his opponent’s home turf. His populist rhetoric and moderate voting record in the House have helped balance his rather conservative ideology. In spite of being a former Republican Congressman, he has established himself as a maverick who has railed against the growing budget deficit.

There are several factors that have helped the Democratic challenger in this race. He has managed to separate himself from national Democrats by criticizing John Kerry’s stand on the war in Iraq. Carson has managed to paint Coburn as too conservative with the Republican’s own words, such as Coburn’s statement that the election is a choice between good (Coburn) and evil (Carson) and that he would support the death penalty for “abortionists” if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Also, a woman has been doggedly following Tom Coburn on the campaign trail alleging that he sterilized her without her permission during a surgery he performed many years ago. Although there is no proof to these allegations, it did force Coburn to address an issue that is of no help to his campaign.

A republican poll conducted by Wilson Research Strategies indicates that a slight lead is materializing for Tom Coburn. The poll shows Coburn with 42 percent of likely voters as compared to 39 percent for Brad Carson. However these numbers are well with in the +/- 4.4 percent margin of error.

Oklahoma’s partisan tendencies push this toward Coburn, but Carson has run a smart campaign and has benefited from several slip-ups by the Republican. This race has been characterized by weird circumstances and the polls have it in a dead heat. Oklahoma’s demographic tendencies may eventually be overcome as Carson continues to press on smartly against the bumbling Coburn.