When the nation went left, Oklahoma went right.
Democratic President-elect Barack Obama secured the last portion of a power triumvirate in Washington with his election earlier this month giving Democrats control of the House, Senate and presidency.
In Oklahoma, though, Republicans gained control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in state history marking a dramatic break from the national trend. Local lawmakers and political experts say the national shift to the left made Oklahomans realize that Republicans reflect their traditional conservative values more than Democrats.
When Oklahoma voted more Democratic, it was believing there was a conservative wing to the Democratic Party. Whats thriving is a realignment of partisanship, said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. Ideologies are matching up now in Oklahoma.
Cole said the rise of the GOP in Oklahoma is a model of where the national party is headed, and when Democratic seats open in 2010, Republicans might extend their control to more state offices.
The fact that Republicans can do this well in a bad national environment what will happen when the environment changes, as it almost certainly will? Cole said. Republicans should look at this and say this sets a great stage for 2010.
Republicans captured the state Senate for the first time since statehood, and picked up four seats in the Oklahoma House in the recent elections. They also won both open corporation commission seats. The new lawmakers were sworn in Tuesday.
Political science professor Keith Gaddie said Republicans have been expanding their control in Oklahoma because they appeal to traditions that resonate with the states highly conservative population.
Gaddie and Cole said Oklahoma Republicans also have been more organized and better funded than the Democrats. Cole pointed to the fact that young Republicans like Scott Martin, District 46 State Rep. who was re-elected this month, are winning in Oklahoma, partly because they are able to generate more funds.
Its because of the effort [Republicans] have put forth throughout the last four years, Martin said. I certainly think were doing a lot of things right.
While the GOP has long had a pro-business reputation, the controversy over House Bill 1804, which strengthened penalties against business that employed illegal immigrants, drove a wedge between the Chamber of Commerce and state Republicans.
Media outlets such as Fox News and CNN have suggested the next group of GOP rising stars will reflect even more traditional conservative values. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Congressman Eric Cantor of Richmond, Va. And Florida Gov. Charlie Christ are among the names being mentioned as rising stars who could surface in the 2012 presidential race.
But that shift could be detrimental to the national party, Gaddie said. Moderate democrats who appeal to voters in swing states overwhelmingly lost to their Democratic rivals.
The moderates got purged. Guys like Chris Shays up in Connecticut, he was the last Republican in all New England, he said. The Republicans are [also] loosing seats dramatically in the Midwest and the Pacific coast their party has become so Southern and the priorities of the Southern Republicans have become so out of step with the rest of the country that it endangers Republicans nationwide.
To reverse the trend, Gaddie said, Republicans will have to find a way to tap into traditional values to solve modern problems.
The fight in the [national] Republican party is indicative of the fight in Oklahoma that has always existed which is not really Democrat-Republican. Is not really rural-urban. Its modern versus traditional, he said.