In Oklahoma, GOP Governor Kevin Stitt At Risk After Battles With Teachers And Tribes

by | Nov 3, 2022 | Politics

OKMULGEE, Okla. — In a year when Republicans are buoyed by historical trends and poised to possibly retake control of Congress, Democrats are seeing a bright spot in an unlikely place: the governor’s race in deep red Oklahoma. Kevin Stitt, the hard-nosed Republican incumbent, is beset by a series of scandals and facing a tough challenge from the state’s school superintendent, a Republican-turned-Democrat named Joy Hofmeister.Advertisement“It’s a real contest,” said Pat McFerron, a veteran Republican pollster in the state.In a state where Donald Trump took 65% of the vote and won all 77 counties, Stitt has had to get last-minute help from the Republican Governors Association, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). He has also loaned his campaign $1.9 million of his own money.In contrast, Hofmeister received an unprecedented joint endorsement from the five biggest tribal nations of the state’s 39 federally recognized tribes, seen poll numbers that show her “aggressively moderate” message may be working and nabbed the endorsement of former congressman and Oklahoma Sooner football star J.C. Watts, a Republican.She has also harnessed the energy and money of two key constituencies that have long had Stitt in their sights: many of the state’s Native American tribes and the state’s teachers.“I want to see action that leads to the best optimal results, and you have to have collaborative leadership to get that done. And this governor is incapable,” Hofmeister told HuffPost.Advertisement“I’m a bridge builder. He’s a bridge burner.”“I don’t think you have somebody, an incumbent governor, reaching into his own pocket if it’s not a legitimate concern about the outcome.”- Pat McFerron, veteran Oklahoma pollsterPolling on the race has been erratic, showing either big Stitt leads or narrow Hofmeister advantages. The most recent reputable poll, by Emerson College, put Stitt up 52% to 43%. Another poll, released Wednesday by an Oklahoma City TV station, though, showed Stitt with only a 1-point lead, within the margin of error.McFerron pointed to Stitt’s personal loan as proof of the race’s competitiveness.“I don’t think you have somebody, an incumbent governor, reaching into his own pocket if it’s not a legitimate concern about the outcome,” he said.‘Starkly Different’ Candidates on EducationHofmeister has portrayed herself as a reluctant warrior, switching parties only after Stitt had “hijacked” the Republican Party and, she said, became too divisive politically.At the top of that list is education. Stitt’s support of a school voucher bill in 2021 that the state’s biggest teachers union said would mean the closure of many rural schools, combined with Hofmeister’s background in elementary education, made Hofmeister the obvious pick for teachers.AdvertisementTo help deal with the voucher plan backlash, Stitt posted a video to Twitter Oct. 27 extolling his support for rural schools.“Let me be clear — I will do nothing to harm our rural communities, our rural schools and our way of life,” Stitt said directly to the camera in the video. “I will stand for our way of life, our rural communities, like I’ve done for the last four years.”Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt talks to former president Donald J. Trump in 2020 at the White House at a roundtable on reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.Alex Wong via Getty ImagesWith almost 4 million people, Oklahoma has 509 separate school districts, each with its own cadre of teachers, administrators and support staff. And, according …

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