Gov. Mary Fallin’s large drop in her voter approval level opens up a real opportunity for her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman in the November election.
Until now, the prevailing wisdom has been that Fallin and her Republican colleagues are virtually invincible given the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and the supposed trickle-down effect on the Democratic ticket in Oklahoma.
But a recent poll, conducted by SoonerPoll for the Tulsa World, shows Fallin’s approval rating has dropped by 19 points from last September to early June. What especially bodes well for Dorman is that her approval rating among registered Democrats has dropped approximately 14 points, from 56 percent to 42 percent during this time frame. Obviously, Dorman has to win his own party substantially to become governor.
In a short article accompanying the poll results SoonerPoll’s Bill Shapard said that Fallin’s decline in approval could be because of her refusal to expand Medicaid here under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and “revolt against important elements of the governor’s education agenda.”
These arguments ring true, although Fallin’s support for controversial and outgoing State School Superintendent Janet Barresi and her actions is probably more of a factor in terms of swaying political opinion. The ACA, of course, known as ObamaCare, is the president’s signature legislature, and other Oklahoma politicians, such as Attorney General Scott Pruitt, have seemingly used their criticism of it to their political advantage. Is that changing?
Another argument is that many voters here are recognizing that the Republican-dominated government is not serving their interests by cutting pensions, disallowing cities from setting their own minimum wage and giving huge tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, which scientists now argue are causing the dramatic surge in earthquakes here with their drilling processes.
After the November election, Obama will have only two more years in office. Is it possible that some Oklahoma voters are simply resigned to this now and are becoming more focused on a local level? What is going to be the point of denigrating lame duck Obama over and over once the 2016 presidential campaign begins in earnest and there are new punching bags to work over.
Dorman should continue to link Fallin to Barresi’s draconian approach to high-stakes testing in the state and the botched A-F assessment of schools. Fallin supported these initiatives. There’s no reason to use attack language to show the connection, which is clear and on record. A measured plan to develop new education standards would probably work well right now against the Fallin-Barresi, schools-are-failing hyperbole.
I also believe the staggering increase in earthquakes in the state has become an election-year issue. (Oklahoma now leads the nation in the number of earthquakes.) A recent earthquake in Harrah, for example, caused damage to some buildings. Scientists have tied the earthquakes to wastewater disposal wells used in the oil and gas fracking processes. Is this an opportunity for Dorman as well? How can we reconcile the interests of property owners with sensible drilling regulations?
There’s no doubt that Dorman, much like former Gov. Brad Henry, is a centrist Democrat in an extremely conservative state. I didn’t agree with every Henry policy, but as the conservative juggernaut swept into office, the former governor gave the state political balance. Dorman can do the same, and now he has an opponent sinking in the polls.