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Two Very Different Democrats Running for US Senate

In just a couple of weeks, Democrats across Oklahoma are voting in the primary runoff for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Tom Coburn.

The winner of the runoff faces a tough challenge in Congressman James Lankford who won the Republican Party nomination in June.

KOSU’s Michael Cross reports on the two people vying for a seat which hasn’t been held by a Democrat since the 1990s.

It’s early morning in Midwest City and a 79-year-old man in a red sweatshirt and cap stands on the corner waving to passing motorists.

With a big smile, a jovial attitude and a broom, Jim Rogers stands before a sign asking for votes in the upcoming runoff.

For the Atoka native, it’s a style of campaigning some might call old school.

“When I grew up you waved at people because you couldn’t stop and talk sometimes. The roads were bad and stuff like that. You’d be in a hurry. So, people would wave back and forth out in the country where I lived, down in southeast Oklahoma.”

Rogers could be considered a perennial candidate having run for the Democratic nomination in different races several times.

The red shirt he’s wearing actually says Jim Rogers for Oklahoma Senate 2004.

In 2010, Rogers used this campaign style to win the Democratic primary although he eventually lost to Senator Tom Coburn.

His opponent, State Senator Connie Johnson is increasing mailers, meeting voters and pushing a strong message.

But, she’s also moving beyond a traditional campaign into social networking and new media.

“We’re looking to really ramp that up to the max to identify all the social media outlets and to actually assign volunteers to start to work that process, because we know that that’s a significant target group right there.”

Both candidates agree on increasing jobs while Rogers believes in keeping tax payer dollars in the US rather than spending it on foreign aid and investments.

Johnson has been a strong advocate over the past few years for decriminalizing marijuana, prison reform and abolishing the death penalty.

Johnson spent the past ten years working in the State Senate from District 48 in northeast Oklahoma City, the least healthy zip code in Oklahoma County.

But, she says several parts of the state are hurting just as bad as the one she currently represents.

“A lack of economic opportunity, jobs, infrastructure, we have food deserts, we have high rates of unemployment, we have people who’ve given up looking for work.”

Standing out on his street corner, Jim Rogers recognizes his opponent has ten years’ experience in the state legislature.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a really good Senator up there at Washington because now you’re not dealing with the state of Oklahoma itself. You’re dealing with the State of Oklahoma and the United States and competing with them and the world.”

No Democrat has represented Oklahoma in the Senate since David Boren resigned in 1994.

The actual seat these two are vying for hasn’t had a Democrat in it since Mike Monroney lost in a reelection bid against Henry Bellmon back in 1968.

Rogers says it’s time for a Democratic Oklahoma Senator.

“We have so many problems we’re not getting solved. We’re kicking the can down the road in Washington. We need that ‘buck stops here’ somewhere like it did in Harry Truman’s days.”

Johnson agrees it’s time for a change in Washington.

“Emotions and feelings are to me at an all-time low, so I think what we have happening here is I represent the possibility for a rebirth for a renaissance for something different from what we have going on right now.”

In the June primary Johnson beat Rogers 44% to 35% with just 7,000 votes separating the two.

The runoff is scheduled for August 26th with early voting scheduled the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the election.

Michael Cross is the host of KOSU's Morning Edition.
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