Republican incumbent Kevin Stitt and Democratic challenger Joy Hofmeister are on different paths during the final days of their gubernatorial campaigns, but both led to Tulsa on Wednesday.
Hofmeister, who must find votes to overcome Stitt’s advantages, is out hunting them on an 11-day, 50-stop road trip.
Stitt appears more focused on larger, more get-out-the-vote events, which makes sense given the Republican advantage in not only registered voters but in general voting behavior.
One of Stitt’s largest GOTV events was Wednesday night at Tulsa’s Renaissance Hotel, where about 600 enthusiastic boosters packed a ballroom to hear a long list of speakers, capped off by Stitt and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
It was the third event of the day for Stitt, who earlier held a smaller GOTV event in Norman and attended the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma’s fall conference in the same city.
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Hofmeister also attended the conference, between stops in Tulsa and Bartlesville.
Wednesday night’s speakers praised Stitt for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, his focus on business and, as one speaker put it, his “stand for righteousness and the word of God.”
There was also the usual amount of attacks on the opposition, with 2nd District Congressman and U.S. Senate nominee Markwayne Mullin saying, “This crap about Hofmeister being a uniter, an individual who is more moderate, there’s no such thing as a moderate in Washington, D.C.”
Hofmeister, of course, would serve in Oklahoma City, not Washington, but the point, hit over and over Wednesday night, is that all Democrats are alike and all of them are like President Joe Biden or worse — even if, like Hofmeister, they’ve been Republicans most of their lives.
“There’s no excuse for being a Republican and deciding to change to become a Democrat, because you know dang well what that (Democratic) platform is,” he said.
Youngkin, a rising national figure in the Republican Party, came out tossing basketballs into the crowd to the sound of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”
“You have a leader,” Youngkin told the crowd. “He understands you don’t work for him; he works for the government.”
Other speakers at the event included Republican state superintendent candidate Ryan Walters, Tulsa Public Schools board member E’Lena Ashley, Broken Arrow Mayor Debra Wimpey, state Rep. Kevin McDugle, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, farmer Brittany Hukill and state Senate candidate Ally Seifried.
One of those in the crowd, David Hall of Tulsa, said he likes Stitt because the governor is “willing to attack some of the powers that be.”
“I think the pandemic showed us the difference between those who support our rights and those who want to squash those rights and squash free speech,” Hall said.
The pandemic came up repeatedly during the evening, as speakers praised Stitt for pressuring schools to reopen and his refusal to impose stricter measures intended to curb the virus’ spread.
Stitt and his supporters maintain that his actions allowed Oklahoma businesses and workers to recover more quickly financially without greatly affecting public health.
Others disagree and note that the Commonwealth Fund ranked Oklahoma’s COVID response 50th of 51 nationwide.
Stitt recited his record as governor and said, “The turnaround is working.”
Hofmeister, on an 11-day bus tour to end her campaign, made three stops in the Tulsa area before noon on Wednesday, diverted to Norman for an appearance at the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma conference, then came back up the Turner Turnpike for stops in Bartlesville and Jenks.
Her first stop Wednesday was at Broken Arrow’s Veterans Park. Next she came to Tulsa for whistle stops at Woodward Park and the Greenwood Cultural Center.
In each case, Hofmeister emerged from the bus to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walkin’ on Sunshine” and a background play list that included the Three Dog Night cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World” and Andy Grammer’s recent hit “Joy” — and a knot of 25 or so admirers.
Among those at Woodward Park were Tulsans Diana Truitt and James Conley.
“We’ve got to get together and get rid of (Trump) and Stitt,” said Truitt.
Conley said he used to be a Republican but switched because the party has “a disease.”
“I became a Republican with Reagan, but it went downhill after that,” he said.
Nearby, Rick Porter of Red Fork watched quietly. He said he had thought about not voting this year but might give Hofmeister a chance.
“I gave up being a ‘Christian Republican,’” Porter said with some sarcasm.
Porter said his niece, a school principal in northeastern Oklahoma, persuaded him to consider Hofmeister.
“She’s been stumping for Joy,” Porter said. “Now that I think about it, that sounds a lot like jumping for Joy.”
Porter said Hofmeister “says the right things. She can’t be worse than Stitt.”
But Porter said he really doesn’t trust any politicians, adding that “I’ve been lied to by the best of them.”
Karlie Pagano-Donald said she couldn’t make the 8 a.m. rally in Broken Arrow, where she lives, but drove to Tulsa to get Hofmeister to sign copies of two children’s books.
The books, “One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote” and “If I Had Your Vote,” are for the Little Library in her neighborhood, Pagano-Donald said.
Hofmeister gave different speeches at the two Tulsa stops but covered similar territory. She attacked what she said has been Stitt’s “self-dealing” and “corruption” and particularly zeroed in on his determination to send money that now goes to public schools to private ones.
She also hit at what she said is Stitt’s effort to privatize the state’s seven veterans’ homes.
Several of the state-owned homes were the subject of scandal several years ago, but Hofmeister said privatizing them “puts profits ahead of care.”
Stitt has been locked in a dispute with the board that oversees the facilities. The board has refused to fire Executive Director Joel Kintsel, who opposed Stitt in the GOP primary.
In August, a member of the Stitt administration said the governor does not support privatization, but others in state government say he has talked about it in the past.
Hofmeister is scheduled to vote at the Tulsa County Election Board early Thursday morning before heading out to Tahlequah and southeastern Oklahoma.
Featured video: Oct. 19 Oklahoma gubernatorial debate