When a state that bucked the national trend and voted more Republican in 2008 is in the spotlight for increasing Republican voter registration, it’s not exactly news. So then, shooting par, The Tulsa World reports that OK increased its GOP membership by almost 29,000 since Jan. 15th compared to only 313 for the Democrats. Democrats retain an overall edge, however, leading Republicans 48.1 to 40.5 percent.
So, the GOP is gaining ground on the Dems, who have held an electoral advantage in OK for a very long time. The real question is not why this is happening (Oklahomans are curiously susceptible to the Teabagger line of “NO GOVERNMENT!”) but what can be done about it. Conventional wisdom would dictate that more Democrats equals more Democratic victories. Yet Oklahoma has some of the staunchest conservative representation in all of Congress. So what is up with these OkieDems?
One factor is that the Democratic party in OK is a very different beast than its national counterpart. OkieDems tend to be quite conservative (witness Dan Boren), relatively speaking. Another factor is the sheer enormity of the Republican machine in OK. The GOP has the backing of the immensely powerful energy industry and it’s tough to counteract that, especially when the same industry is currently flooding Oklahoma City with construction dollars.
However, one of the biggest reasons OK is turning redder has to do with the inordinate amount of apathy in this state. I frequently talk about political topics with the people around me and I’m constantly amazed at just how little Okies know or care about their government. Much of the energetic, young, engaged population of OKC doesn’t seem that concerned with retail politicking or, worse yet, doesn’t see any reason to work for victories because the nutjob Right Wing has controlled the state for as long as they’ve been alive. If you know your state has actually gotten more conservative since 2008, what good is it to try to change minds know, when the odds are actually longer?
This is a dilemma that too often goes overlooked at the national level. Understandably, the larger Democratic party is loath to throw dollars down a figurative hole chasing a paltry number of votes. The strategy is sound, no matter how much it might suck for us lonely progressives in the Sooner State. But to ignore OK as a foregone conclusion is to embolden the Right and further entrench their stranglehold. Even a token show of support to those in the trenches would go a long way towards energizing and engaging those who would otherwise be inclined to sit this election (and every other) out. Additionally, it could have the side benefit of blindsiding the GOP, which certainly takes OK for granted.
In my experience, Oklahomans are a pragmatic lot. If the national party could be convinced to quietly build its apparatus in the state, drawing on the nominal support they enjoy, it could serve to light a fire under the progressives here. And trust me, if you’d like to see a confused, frightened GOP, let them be surprised when a true progressive wins statewide here in the Reddest of the Red states.