A surprising amount of attention has been paid to the Sooner State as of late. Several polls have indicated a competitive gubernatorial race, something that would be truly shocking in a Trump+33 state. As a result, some outlets – including the Cook Political Report – have shifted the race to Likely Republican.
While we won’t be officially announcing our ratings changes until Monday, Oklahoma will not be one of them.
The Missouri Mirage
In 2020, Republicans in Missouri were running in crisis mode. Republican operatives warned that both the Presidential and Gubernatorial races in this Trump+19 state were in play. Public polling corroborated these claims, showing a 3-6 point lead for Trump and only a marginally higher one for Mike Parsons in the Gubernatorial race. Moreover, the suburban MO-02 – a Trump+11 seat – seemed like a truly viable Democratic target. All of these factors combined led us to move the state to Leans Republican – a decision we regret to this day.
By the time the votes were tallied, the results were apparent. Trump carried the state by over 15 percentage points, and Republicans had held MO-02 by six percentage points. Parsons clobbered Nicole Galloway by a 17-point margin – Galloway, a touted Democratic recruit, turned in the worst Democratic performance in decades. What had looked like a clearly competitive state had turned out to be a mirage.
A Cycle of Failure
This same story – polling showing a safe state as competitive, only to be wildly off the mark on election day – has shown itself time and time again:
- In 2016, polls indicated Trump might lose Utah to Evan McMullin; he ended up winning by 18 percentage points, while McMullin finished a distant but respectable third.
- In 2018, Democrats touted Phil Bredesen in Tennessee while Republicans were confident with Bob Hugin in New Jersey. Both lost by double-digit margins.
- In 2020, Democrats were convinced that a slew of deep-red states – Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and South Carolina – were deeply competitive races and poured hundreds of millions of dollars into them. All of these races were decided by double-digit margins, and none saw truly drastic over-performances from the top of the ticket.
- In 2022, polling and spending indicated Washington could be competitive at the Senate level; after the primary gave Democrats a predictable double-digit lead, interest in the race faded.
At Elections Daily, we’re extremely proud that we never fell into those trap races in 2020; we never moved them past Likely Republican, and frankly I regret having ever ranked them as competitive. We have a built-in, healthy skepticism about the competitiveness of these types of races, one that we feel helps us avoid making truly unwise ratings decisions.
As this map from our Election Shuffler tool shows, a Democratic win in Oklahoma would need a 34-point generic shift. We find this to simply be implausible. Moresover, we don’t think a Hofmeister win would look quite like this map does – polling indicates Stitt’s support is softer in rural areas. In other words, the utterly crushing 66-33 win in Oklahoma County that this map presents would be highly unlikely.
For Oklahoma, a couple things are clear: Kevin Stitt is not popular, and rural Oklahoma might be more competitive than usual this time. Is this enough for us to shift the race? Not yet. We’re going to wait a week or two before we reconsider this, but we simply don’t see a scenario where Kevin Stitt loses. And if we don’t see a scenario where Stitt can lose, that makes this race, by definition, Safe Republican, at least for now.