OKLAHOMA CITY — Duty calls for U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin — and it's going to cost her a vote.
Fallin found herself locked in a four-way GOP primary for governor as the Oklahoma primary election opened Tuesday morning. But she won't get to vote for herself.
She learned Monday night she had to vote on a supplemental funding bill for the war in Afghanistan. She had to hop a flight to Washington, D.C., about 20 minutes before the polls opened at 7 a.m., her spokesman, Alex Weintz, said. Fallin hoped to get back to the state in time for her election night party Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
"I'm still optimistic she'll be able to get there," Weintz said. "It's still possible she'll be watching the election on TV in Washington."
Fallin was one of a number of political heavyweights duking it out to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. Henry is term limited and seek another term, and the absence of the popular governor has set off a series of political dominoes in the state. [See who has given to Fallin's campaign.]
Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins each are giving up relatively safe seats to seek the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, Fallin faces state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso and two lesser-funded candidates, Oklahoma City-area businessmen Roger Jackson and Robert Hubbard.
But the races didn't generate much early interest Tuesday.
One northeast Oklahoma City precinct reported just three voters in the first hour after polls opened, and a second in the area saw about two dozen.
Helen Grant, a retired postal clerk, said she voted for Edmondson because of his experience and the belief he will help bring jobs to the state.
"When I came up we could go and look for a job, and find one," Grant said.
University of Central Oklahoma employee Gypsy Hogan said Askins is her choice because she understands complex topics.
"If it is any issue that has to be read more than five pages, and understood, you have to ask Jari," Hogan said.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said he had no information on the early statewide turnout. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
With Edmondson and Askins in the governor's race, the seats they left behind are giving Republicans a shot at a statewide sweep in 2010 of major offices in Oklahoma, a state Democrats controlled for decades.
"I wouldn't say it's likely, but the opportunity is there," said Chad Alexander, a GOP political strategist and former chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
"Barack Obama is the most unpopular Democrat president that we've ever seen in Oklahoma, and every Republican candidate in the state has the wind at their back," he said. "This is a tremendous year for Oklahoma Republicans, and we have opportunities to win where we've never competed before."
Ben Odom, a Democratic political strategist and former vice-chair of the party, said that although the decision by Edmondson and Askins to leave their seats open could expose Democrats to losses for lieutenant governor and attorney general, it also gives the party a legitimate shot at the governor's seat.
"With risk comes opportunity," Odom said. "It's two heavyweights going at it, but the way the campaign has been run, the winner will have a unified party behind them because it hasn't been a vicious primary between the two of them. Whoever loses goes away with their integrity and reputation intact, and I think they'll be back in public service."
Fallin's open congressional seat also has drawn a crowded field — seven Republicans, two Democrats and two independents. The deep and well-funded GOP field means that race likely will lead to an August runoff.
In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Republican Tom Coburn is expected to easily fend off two primary challengers — perennial candidate Evelyn Rogers and retired teacher Lewis Kelly Spring of Hugo. In the Democratic primary, newcomer Mark Myles of Oklahoma City will meet Jim Rogers of Midwest City, another perennial challenger.