SCOTT SIMON, host:
Barack Obama won many historically Republican states in this year's election, including Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina. But he didn't win Oklahoma. Republicans were actually on the upswing there. They won local elections and took control of the state Senate for the first time in its history. John McCain carried every single county in Oklahoma and won by such a margin, Oklahoma can now safely be called the most Republican state in the union. I'm joined now by Keith Gaddie, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. And how do you explain the Republicans doing so well when they clearly weren't in so many other places?
Dr. KEITH GADDIE (Professor of Political Science, University of Oklahoma): Well, there's been a long-term trend in Oklahoma towards the Republican Party. But if you want to get to the basis of what's going on, it's about culture and it's about the economy in Oklahoma. We are a socially conservative state with a booming economy, and we weren't influenced by most of the forces at work in the election this year.
SIMON: And this, we should underscore, is a state which has a long tradition of Democratic success, isn't it?
Dr. GADDIE: Oh, absolutely. Democrats have dominated this state ever since statehood in 1907. The president of my university, David Boren, is the quintessential Democrat from Oklahoma - strong on national defense, strong ties to the business sector, but also able to tap into long-standing populist sentiments in the state of Oklahoma. When David Boren passed from the political scene in 1994 to become president of OU, it really led to an unraveling of the Democratic Party in the state of Oklahoma, and they've never recovered.
SIMON: Do you think Oklahoma Republicans are doing something that national Republicans might learn from?
Dr. GADDIE: Well, what they've had the good fortune to do here is to work against a Democratic Party that has been saddled with a national Democratic Party that doesn't agree with most Oklahoma Democrats. So Republicans have been able to step in and take advantage of social issues, social conservatism. And this is typical of what we've seen going on with white voters throughout the South. The Republicans don't really learn a lot here that they can apply nationwide except for one element, Scott.
Dr. GADDIE: They have been very good on good government reform. We've had a lot of ethical issues and corruption issues in the Democratic Party in the legislative and executive and also in local government. And Republicans have pitched themselves as reformers, and I think that has played well for them.
SIMON: Are there any Republican leaders in Oklahoma who have a chance at national prominence now?
Dr. GADDIE: Yes, Tom Coburn. Dr. Tom Coburn is the junior senator from Oklahoma, and he is highly acceptable to social conservatives and agrees with their issues. But if you look at his career and reputation, he has built it on issues of governmental ethics and integrity and fiscal accountability. But in addition to that, despite being a staunch conservative, he has the ability to make friends across the aisle.
Tom Coburn would count among those people he respects and can get along with, Senator Russ Feingold from Wisconsin, but also the incoming president of the United States, Barack Obama. Of all the Republicans out there, Coburn can stand as an ethical and budgetary guidepost, yet also go toe to toe with the White House and also negotiate with them. And I believe that Tom Coburn will enjoy substantial prominence in the coming years in the GOP, should he choose to step forward and take that leadership role.
SIMON: Keith Gaddie, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, thanks so much.
Dr. GADDIE: Thank you, sir.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.