Hofmeister and Stitt advance in gubernatorial race

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Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister presents a report. (AP File Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks during a press conference in Oklahoma City. (AP File Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and Democrat Joy Hofmeister easily won their respective primaries on Tuesday, both enjoying huge fundraising advantages over their opponents in a state where burning issues like abortion, guns and the death penalty are likely to be at the center of the race.

Stitt’s feuds with fellow Republicans in the Legislature and with many Oklahoma-based Native American tribes didn’t seem to bother GOP primary voters, though strained relations with the tribes, which grew more powerful with an influx of casino revenue over the past few decades, likely will play a role in November’s general election.

Stitt, 49, the wealthy former head of a Jenks-based mortgage company, has raised about $5.4 million, nearly 20 times more than his top three GOP opponents combined, and is a heavy favorite To advance. But the first-term governor was also forced to spend heavily on advertising to counter millions of dollars in black money attack ads that portrayed him as soft on crime.

“We’ve made government more accountable to the people,” Stitt told supporters at a watch party Tuesday night. “We provide better services while keeping government small and limited.”

His main Republican opponents included Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs chief Joel Kintsel, 46, political unknown Moira McCabe, 40, and former Tulsa police officer Mark Sherwood, 57, a naturopathic doctor.

On the campaign stump, Stitt focused on what he called “Oklahoma’s turnaround” and pointed to the state’s low unemployment rate and rebounding economy, including more than 2 billions of dollars that have been cashed into government savings accounts. Even after four years in office, Stitt has portrayed himself as a businessman and political outsider in the mold of former President Donald Trump.

On the Democratic side, Hofmeister, 57, a longtime Republican and two-term Oklahoma public school system official, announced last year that she was switching parties to run against Stitt. The two had clashed over the state’s handling of COVID-19 in schools, including banning mask mandates, and Stitt’s support for a voucher scheme that would divert funds from the public education to private schools.

She beat Connie Johnson, 70, a longtime Oklahoma Democratic Party loyalist and former state senator, who was a leading liberal voice during her 12 years as a state legislator.

As a lifelong Republican, Hofmeister doesn’t offer as clear an alternative to Stitt as most Democrats would. She describes herself as “pro-life”, although she says a decision on an abortion should be made between a woman and her doctor. Johnson, on the other hand, was a strong proponent of abortion rights during her tenure in the Senate.

“I think Joy’s positions are moderate, and I think she has the best chance, if anyone has a chance, of beating Kevin Stitt in the fall,” said Michael Bowling, 46, a Democrat. who voted for Hofmeister at Crown Heights. Christian Church in Oklahoma City.

Hofmeister had a major fundraising advantage over Johnson, raising more than $1.1 million compared to Johnson’s $53,000. Of all the gubernatorial candidates, including Stitt, Hofmeister had the most cash on hand, about $490,000, ahead of Tuesday’s primary, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Independent Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City anesthesiologist and former Republican state senator, and libertarian Natalie Bruno of Edmond will also be on the November ballot.

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