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Oklahoma Republicans split between social, economic conservatives



n this, Republicans have steadily benefited politically. But in the 2008 presidential election, the economy became the primary issue, which is one of the reasons President Barack Obama won, Frank said.

In Oklahoma, however, where Republican presidential candidate John McCain won every county, social issues are still key, Gaddie said. He called Oklahoma a "recession-resistant" state, saying the economy has not been as bad here as in some other states.

"The rest of the country has been confronting cutbacks in state services and no cuts in taxes for most of the decade, and we've been expanding state services and cutting taxes," Gaddie said. "Even now, while other states around the country are looking at really severe cuts in public services and potential tax increases, we're holding our own. So in other words, we haven't had to deal with any of the bad news, and when you don't have to deal with the bad news, that allows you to focus on issues that you can fight on."

These fighting issues are now confined to headline grabbers like Kern's proclamation. The issues have allowed the "diehard social conservatives" to become a force to be reckoned with in Oklahoma.

Loveless said Reynolds and other social conservatives like him are "not yet driving the train" in the House, but they are working their way up the ladder.

He said the lawmakers now have more impact. This is due in part to term limits, which have caused a shift of power in both state houses after being approved by voters in 1990.

Term limits ousted powerful incumbents, allowing lawmakers like Reynolds to work their way up the food chain because they have been in the Legislature as long as anybody. Republican leaders have realized, Loveless said, that Reynolds does not represent a district in which his seat is vulnerable, so he is not going anywhere.

But term limits will force some of the hard-line social conservatives out of office before long, Gaddie said.

"We're going to keep turning over this leadership, and turning it over and turning it over," he said. "But the thing is, Mike Reynolds is going to be gone in a couple years, Sally Kern will be gone not long after him. Someone else has to step forward and maintain this institution. This is one of the problems with term limits: You can create a caucus like this and it can be powerful in the short term, but you have to institutionalize it, get it resources and continue to line up leadership in it for it to be a real force."

Gaddie predicted that the GOP will continue to gain power in Oklahoma, saying the party may soon surpass 70 seats in the House, creating one of the most dominant state Republican parties in the country.

The future is up in the air, however, for the staunch social conservatives because the 2010 census will redraw the legislative map in unknown ways. More and more people are moving to the suburbs of Tulsa and Oklahoma City from rural areas, Gaddie said, meaning that when redistricting time rolls around, some districts may be eliminated from rural regions and inserted into the metro areas.

This could help the social conservatives because the people who are moving to the cities from rural areas are largely socially conservative in their own right, he said.

But it depends on how and where the lines for these new districts are drawn. Gaddie said the districts will probably take root in areas where new subdivisions are being built. Which faction of the GOP benefits most from this may depend on the size and type of those subdivisions.

"The smaller the house, the more ripe, the more fertile the ground is for the core social conservatives," he said. "The larger the tract development, the larger the homes, the taller the trees, the broader the avenues, the richer the tax base, the better off it is for the business conservatives." "?Will Holland

Editor's note: This is the second installment of a two-part series on Oklahoma's two major political parties. Reporting contributed by Grant Slater.

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