BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2012
10/28/12 at 2:44 AM
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Think of it. No lifelong Oklahoma voter under the age of 50 has cast a meaningful vote for president of the United States.
Not that it seems to matter to Oklahomans. Turnout in presidential years is generally about 40 percent higher than in off-years, when the state elects its governor and most statewide officers.
That is all the more remarkable considering how little practical effect a presidential ballot cast in Oklahoma has.
Not since 1976, when Republican Gerald Ford edged Democrat Jimmy Carter by just 13,000 votes, has Oklahoma been "in play." In the last two elections - and probably this one as well - it hasn't even had a county in play.
Oklahomans know the story. No Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since 1964. It hasn't really been solidly Democratic since 1948.
But there was a time, in an era of different political alignments and party values, when Oklahoma mattered in presidential politics.
Part of it was Electoral College math. In 1908, Oklahoma was worth seven electoral votes, same as today. In 1912, the allotment rose to 10. That number remained through the 1948 election, except for 1932 and 1936, when Oklahoma had 11 electoral votes.
During these years, Oklahoma was a boiling pot of political conflict. Drys, wets, urban, rural socialists, organized labor, railroad and mining interests, southern Democrats, Republicans of various stripes, machine politicians and even, to a limited extent, minorities and women, clamored for recognition and control.
Democrat William Jennings Bryan, whose agrarian populism greatly influenced the state's early leadership, won the state's first presidential election but not by as much as some might think. He received only 48 percent and finished just 12,000 votes ahead of Republican William Howard Taft. Socialist Eugene Debs, who got less than 3 percent nationally, took more than 8 percent - some 21,000 votes - in Oklahoma.
Debs doubled his share four years later. In 1914, the Socialist candidate for governor received 53,000 votes in an election decided by just 5,000.
An unwieldy coalition allowed Democrats to hold sway during most of that time, but Republicans briefly gained the upper hand. In 1920, Warren Harding became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Oklahoma, and the state elected its first Republican U.S. senator, J.W. Harreld. The GOP took control of the state House of Representatives and increased its Senate seats from 10 to 17. In 1928, Herbert Hoover got 64 percent of the vote in Oklahoma.
Then came the Great Depression.
"The agricultural depression had been coming on for quite awhile," said University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie. "Then the bottom fell out, and you see this dramatic shift, as much as a 40-point shift in some places."
Oklahoma gave Franklin Roosevelt 516,000 votes in 1932, more than twice as many as it had ever given a Democrat and still the third-highest total for the party, behind Jimmy Carter's 532,000 in 1976 and Lyndon Johnson's 520,000 in 1964.
"It set the Republican party back a generation - or two," said Gaddie. "Nobody remembers the Republican who ran against J. Howard Edmondson (for governor) in 1958 because he got 19 percent of the vote."
But just four years later, Oklahoma elected its first Republican governor, Henry Bellmon.
Two years after that, in 1964, it voted Democratic in a presidential election for the last time.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Quote: "I believe in an America where no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, you can make it if you try."
Born: Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu
Family: Wife Michelle and two daughters
Alma mater: Harvard Law School, Columbia University, Occidental College
Occupation: Law professor
Experience: Illinois State Senate (1997-2004); U.S. Senate (2005-2009); President (2009-)
Running mate: Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware
Quote: "We believe in a place that challenges each of us to be better and bigger than ourselves. We believe in a land of opportunity and freedom. We believe in America."
Born: March 12, 1947, in Detroit
Family: Wife Ann, five sons and 18 grandchildren
Alma mater: Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, Brigham Young University
Experience: Founded Bain Capital (1984); Massachusetts governor (2003-2007); Headed 2002 Winter Olympics Games
Running mate: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
Associated Press file photo
Associated Press file photo
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the heavy favorite to win Oklahoma's seven electoral college votes. ERIC GAY / Associated Press file
President Barack Obama didn't carry Oklahoma in 2008. In fact, no Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. ERIC GAY / Associated Press file