Presidential candidates step up activity in Oklahoma as Super Tuesday approaches
With the Super Tuesday presidential primaries about two weeks away, Democratic presidential candidates have begun focusing on Oklahoma and 13 other states where voters will cast ballots.
Three of the Democratic candidates still in the race — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — have visited Oklahoma in the last six months.
Former Gov. David Walters, who represents Oklahoma on the Democratic National Committee and has helped candidates develop contacts in the state, said he expects more visits before the Super Tuesday contests on March 3.
“I do think they’ll come here,” Walters said. “I would be surprised if Warren doesn’t come back — and Bernie Sanders.”
Oklahoma Democrats were hoping to host a candidate forum on Feb. 27, but Walters said the calendar was too tight for candidates between the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29.
About one-third of the total Democratic delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday, as voters in huge states like California and Texas go to the polls along with those in small states like Vermont and Maine. A Democratic candidate will need 1,991 delegates to win the nomination from pledged delegates, those who are committed to a particular candidate.
Oklahoma has 37 delegates up for grabs, which will be awarded proportionally statewide and in each of the five congressional districts.
Sanders won Oklahoma in 2016 with 52% of the vote, and he won four of the five congressional districts over Hillary Clinton. He took 21 of the 38 Democratic delegates allocated in Oklahoma based on the primary results.
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Fourteen Democrats will be on the March 3 ballot, though some are no longer running. Registered independents will be allowed to vote in the Democratic presidential primary, but not the Republican contest.
Walters, who is neutral in the race, said he expects Sanders to finish strong in Oklahoma and Bloomberg to capture some delegates.
“I’ve been surprised — just anecdotally — how many people have said they are for (Bloomberg),” Walters said.
The Bloomberg campaign recently announced plans to hire two dozen staff members and open three field offices in Oklahoma before March 3. Bloomberg has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on broadcast and digital ads in Oklahoma since November touting his work on health care and gun control, his joint efforts with former President Barack Obama, and calling for President Donald Trump to be removed from office.
In Tulsa last month, Bloomberg unveiled a plan to increase black ownership of homes and businesses. He appeared at an event earlier this month in Oklahoma City with television’s Judge Judy.
Sarah Baker, state director for the Bloomberg campaign, said, “Mike’s level of commitment to Oklahoma is exciting. Our campaign is building a Democratic infrastructure that hasn't existed in Oklahoma for decades.”
Bloomberg has outspent by far the rest of the Democrats in Oklahoma, but Sanders, who won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary this year, has topped the field in fundraising here. And he finished atop an Amber Integrated poll taken in December of the 5th Congressional District, which includes most of Oklahoma County.
According to the Sanders campaign, staff members and volunteers have knocked on 20,000 doors in Oklahoma and held more than 300 events. Sanders held a rally in Norman in September that drew an estimated 4,000 people and addressed the annual Comanche Nation Fair Powwow in Lawton.
“We are immensely proud of the campaign we are building across Oklahoma,” said Josh Visnaw, Bernie 2020 Oklahoma State Director. “With an expanded team and our new Co-Chairs, we will be able to build on the huge amount of grassroots momentum we already have in Oklahoma."
Warren grew up in Oklahoma City and still has family in the state, but Walters said that is not widely known and may not be a factor on March 3.
“I would expect her to be in the conversation (in Oklahoma), but, probably not in a highly competitive way,” Walters said, adding that he was surprised at the senator’s relatively low finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Warren campaign has hired staff in Oklahoma City, Norman, Tulsa, Tahlequah and Stillwater, and has been organizing volunteers throughout the state.
“Organizing is at the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s fight for big, structural change in her home state of Oklahoma,” said AC Facci, the campaign’s organizing director in Oklahoma. “Our talented team here represents a strong investment in meeting people where they are and building a movement to level the playing field for everyone.”
The campaign for Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who posted strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, announced that it would have “boots on the ground” in Oklahoma this week.
On Monday, the Edmond Democratic Women is hosting a forum to hear about the candidates. Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren will be represented by state supporters, including some elected officials. The campaigns for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and California businessman Tom Steyer are sending videos. Walters is moderating the event, which is not open to the public.
On the Republican side, Trump is expected to sweep easily the 40 delegates up for grabs in Oklahoma. Five other Republicans filed in Oklahoma for the March 3 primary, though none is a viable opponent to the president.
Trump finished a close second in the Oklahoma primary in 2016 to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Samantha Cotten, spokesperson for the Trump re-election campaign, said last week, “As 2020 Democrats spew their socialist agenda across the country, voters know if Democrats had their way, they would go after your Second Amendment rights, kick you off of your health insurance, kill the robust oil and gas industry, and hike up your taxes to cover their big government programs. We look forward to beating whoever the Democrats nominate in November.”