The first presidential delegate selection contest in Iowa is just a year away, to be almost immediately followed by the Oklahoma primary. The march of the candidates is under way, as they selectively campaign the early primary states.
Throughout the coming year we'll be watching these candidates' adventures in Soonerland.
For the moment, however, here are three candidates to watch for in the coming weeks, because they all need Oklahoma, and they'll all be coming through town.
Mitt Romney: The former governor of Massachusetts is an attractive candidate, articulate, above ethical reproach. As the savior of the Salt Lake City Olympics, he made a name for himself as a fixer, and his tenure as governor of Massachusetts demonstrates a crossover appeal that helps Republicans bore into the Democrats' 240 electoral vote base. Speculation abounds that a relatively liberal, previously abortion-rights, Mormon candidate will run into problems with the evangelical base of the GOP, but evangelical prejudice against the Mormon Church crowd may be a bit overstated. Expect to see Romney in Oklahoma often, as unemployed Republicans Thad Balkman and (possibly) Ernest Istook sign on to help deliver this early primary state.
John Edwards: Yes, Mr. Happy is back! The most charming plaintiffs' lawyer in America is making a second run for the White House. Edwards, who made his pile and then went to the U.S. Senate, is in New Orleans rebuilding neighborhoods and drawing attention to issues of poverty. Running as an unabashed limousine liberal, Edwards is doing something no other candidate is doing " staying true to his politics from the last campaign. Look for a return of the talk of "Two Americas," and so on and so forth. Edwards came within about a vote per precinct of beating John Kerry in the Oklahoma primary in 2004. With the first four events in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he could come into the early February events like Oklahoma on the momentum of three wins.
Mike Huckabee: Here's the dark horse, the evangelical former governor of neighboring Arkansas. He's already been through the Sooner State, speaking and fund raising, and he's among the more articulate and charismatic candidates available for the GOP " the man plays the electric bass, runs marathons and made Arkansas forget Bill Clinton. There are some mild controversies " a governor in Arkansas can accept no gifts except wedding gifts, so the Huckabees, married for a couple of decades, have a registry for people who want to give them a postdated wedding gift. Huckabee may emerge as the attractive alternative for evangelical Southerners who are not quite ready for the former governor of Massachusetts. South Carolina and Oklahoma are Huckabee's best bets for breakout wins in the early primaries, but he needs to score in New Hampshire.
Romney, if he wins here, lays aside the Mormon issue by making clear that an evangelical-dominated Republican electorate can look past labels to see the substance of his candidacy. Edwards needs a win here to be able to frame his liberal campaign theme as "populist" and contend for the border South states. Huckabee needs a win here because it is a relatively low-cost opportunity to establish a delegate beachhead in the crowded GOP field.
Then they all have to figure out what to do about America's favorite white mouse, John McCain. - Keith Gaddie
Gaddie is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and partner in TvPoll.com.