With midterm elections just around the corner, candidates are doing everything they can to earn the votes of any last-minute undecided Oklahomans.
Campaigning for governor looks a lot different when you already are governor. Incumbent Mary Fallin is trying to balance her job monitoring the capitol, where it’s legislative study season, with her campaigning schedule. She says it’s brutal. She averages five cities a day in a big, Republican red RV emblazoned with the outline of the state and the declaration “Mary on the Move.”
Stop and Talk
On the campaign trail one day last week, stops took her to Hinton, Cordell and Watonga, all in the western part of the state. The towns are small, and they’re comprised of a mostly older population, a demographic that is most likely to vote next week, so Fallin is out shaking hands, answering questions and hearing complaints. She says face-to-face interactions have always been part of her job.
“I think it's important for a governor to get out and listen to people. That's always been my style, the years I've been in office,” Fallin said.
When the governor and her RV arrived at Gloria’s Kitchen in Hinton, town clerk Pam Kokojan stood around anxiously with the rest of the patrons in the diner, which is in the front of an antique mall, waiting to shake Fallin’s hand.
“We haven't had a governor here in 17 years, so everybody's pretty excited about that,” Kokojan said.
The Hinton crowd seems to love Fallin. They know her well: one man has a brochure from her 1997 campaign; others wear “Fallin for Governor” pins. Kokojan says the economy is booming; she boasted about the new bowling alley in town.
But with a population of less than 4,000 people, Pam Coe says not everything in Hinton is perfect.
“We're real concerned about our schools, especially out here in rural Oklahoma,” she said.
Coe taught in Hinton Independent School District for almost a decade. She says she has watched education discussions especially carefully this year, like a lot of other Oklahomans.
“The whole community revolves around the school systems, they're really having a hard time right now, and all these changes with policy and common core and so forth has just thrown everyone in a tailspin,” she said.
Coe dislikes current State Superintendent Janet Barresi. She’s suspicious of Barresi, and she’s heard rumors that Fallin could appoint the superintendent to another position next year.
“That's why I cornered her specifically on her relationship with Janet Barresi because I would not be for putting Superintendent Barresi back in,” Coe said.
But the governor reassured Coe that those were just rumors, and Barresi would not be back, and that was good enough for Coe.
Small Town Governor
The incumbent prides herself on being a small town girl. She tells people how her both parents were mayors of Tecumseh when she was growing up… and when her RV made a pit stop at a gun shop in New Cordell, where the walls were covered in cattle brands and a stuffed bear wearing a cowboy hat warned shoppers to leave loaded weapons outside, Fallin bragged about her hunting record.
“So I've got my 1,200 pound elk, 22-point that I shot. I got a 10-point deer, a 9-point deer, couple of turkeys, a pheasant I've shot,” she said.
“That's our kind of governor,” replied the gun shop owner.
But back on the RV, Fallin resumes the responsibilities of her day job. She reviews her calendar and makes fundraising phone calls. Even though she’s ahead in the polls, the incumbent campaigns constantly.
“We feel comfortable with where we're at with this campaign, but we don't take it for granted,” she said. “And that's why I'm still out working very hard to earn every vote that I can from the people of our state.”
Fallin says she’ll be out in the field a lot in the next week. For her, this hunt for governor is one that takes a lot of focus and determination.
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