Salena Zito

TULSA, Okla. – “I don't say I am no better than anybody else but I’ll be damned if I ain’t just as good.”

That line from the iconic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical pretty much sums up the character of Oklahomans.

“It is quintessential frontier America,” said Frank Keating, the state’s Republican governor from 1995 until 2002. “That frontier work ethic has carried on in each generation, and so has a disdain for elites.”

Both political parties here strongly distrust anything “big” – government, money, regulations, egos. Although a reliably Republican state in national elections, Democrats’ registration tops the GOP’s – but Oklahoma Democrats are quick to say they are not “national” Dems.

“I think we are different, given our background and mix of cultures,” said Wallace Collins, chairman of the state’s Democrats.

Oklahoma Democrats have not changed much but the national political culture has, according to Eldon Eisenach, a retired Tulsa University political theorist.

“The Republican Party recognized the seismic shift. The Democratic Party, entrenched and isolated in liberal elite institutions, did not and they are paying the price,” he said.

“Can you imagine the electoral disaster if the Democratic Party embraced Occupy Wall Street? Worse than 1968 Chicago.”

Indeed, just 100 people attended an Occupy Tulsa protest.

Down the road, Olivia Roberts waits tables full-time at Andale’s, a South Tulsa family restaurant; she is finishing a college degree and has a three-month-old daughter. Juggling all three is “just normal,” she says, what she should do to provide for her daughter’s future.

Rob Allen is up at 5 a.m. daily to shuttle people from a Tulsa hotel to the airport; he also is a flight instructor and is finishing a degree, too. He’d like to become a corporate-jet pilot and laughs nervously over how President Obama uses that profession as an elitist symbol.

As president, Obama has not visited the Sooner State; as a candidate, he attended a fundraiser here hosted by Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser in 2007. Kaiser was thrust into the national spotlight for his role in Solyndra, the taxpayer-backed solar company that went bankrupt.

Vice President Joe Biden was here just weeks ago, also to raise cash. State party chairman Collins said Kaiser didn’t attend, although Federal Election Commission records show his son, Philip, donated $5,000 at that time.

While Oklahomans don't affect national Democrats in the voting booth, they do donate generously to them.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.