OKLAHOMA CITY — Republicans steamrolled to a clean sweep of federal and statewide offices in Oklahoma's midterm election, but the two GOP candidates with the closest ties to public education fared worst among the winners.
Despite a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage and the power of incumbency, Gov. Mary Fallin's 15-point margin over Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman in Tuesday's election was smaller than her 20 percentage-point win in 2010 over then-Lt. Gov. Jari Askins. And Joy Hofmeister's victory over Democrat John Cox in the state superintendent's race was even tighter — 11 percentage points.
"While certainly a victory for the governor, that's an indictment of her first four years, and education is a key part of that," said House Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman, of Del City.
By comparison, Republicans running for the state's two U.S. Senate seats enjoyed 40-point margins of victory, while the margins in other statewide races ranged from 25 percentage points in the labor commissioner's race to 37 points in the lieutenant governor's race.
The last time an incumbent governor ran for a second term in Oklahoma — Democrat Brad Henry in 2006 — he won with 66 percent of the vote.
"Any time you're the incumbent governor and you've tackled tough issues in your state, you're always going to catch some heat," Fallin said Tuesday night.
Her campaign manager, Alex Weintz, was quick to point out that Fallin's margin of victory was still significant.
"A 15-point margin of victory for a governor in any state is enormous. It was actually considerably higher than what we were expecting," Weintz said. "And quite frankly, as the governor said yesterday, I think you should give credit where credit is due — Joe Dorman ran a very serious and professional campaign."
Dorman consistently hammered Fallin for her handling of education issues, most notably her support of Republican-led initiatives like A-F grading for school districts, high-stakes reading tests for third-graders and a decline in per-pupil spending under her watch. He also criticized the governor for initially supporting Common Core standards for education and then backing away when they became politically unpopular.
Voter frustration over education was evident in the June primary, when Republican State Superintendent Janet Barresi was soundly defeated, losing in all 77 counties.
"The state of education in Oklahoma is just pitiful," said Neil McGuffee, 60, an attorney from Moore who cast his ballot for Dorman and Cox in Tuesday's election. "They need to make changes, but I don't think they have the guts."
Barresi acknowledged that the "education establishment," including superintendents and teacher unions, opposed many of the reform efforts that she and Fallin backed, but she urged the governor and Hofmeister to stand behind the changes.
"To abandon those efforts now for the expediency of politics and for pleasing adults would damage our children profoundly," Barresi said. "We need to stay strong on this."
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