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For Oklahoma delegates in the 'reddest' state, pity and respect

September 04, 2012|By Hector Becerra
  • The stage is almost set at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.
The stage is almost set at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.— As she headed to the Democratic National Convention that starts here Tuesday night, 83-year-old Oklahoma delegate Isabel Baker ran into Democrats from other states. They greeted her with a blend of respect and pity.

But mostly pity, she said, for coming from one of the nation’s most resolutely Republican states.

“They say, ‘God love you. Thank you,’” the retired college professor said Tuesday morning, wearing a long-sleeve pink shirt with “Forward Obama” printed in a glittery silver. “I think we’re treated better, maybe. I think they feel sorry for us.”

Oklahoma sent 47 delegates to the Democratic convention to support President Obama in his race against GOP challenger Mitt Romney.  They have no illusion Obama will carry what one called the “reddest of the red” states.

Four years ago, Republican nominee John McCain trounced Obama in Oklahoma by more than 31 percentage points. Obama didn’t win a single one of the 77 counties.

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Obama would need something like a mass migration of surplus Democrats from New York or California to win Oklahoma. The staunchest Oklahoma Sooner football fan probably would sooner ask to be dressed in a Nebraska Huskers jersey for his funeral before Obama wins the state.

The result is such a foregone conclusion, said Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma,  that neither Obama nor Romney is expected to step foot in the state before election day.  

“Neither campaign will spend a dime in Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s all set.”

The state is so conservative, Hembree said, that when he announced he was going to the Democratic convention, he was loudly booed. By his friends. 

But Jim Frasier, another delegate, said that doesn’t mean committed Democrats sit on the sidelines in Oklahoma.

“I take great pleasure raising money in Oklahoma and sending it to Illinois, and Pennsylvania and Ohio,” said the 71-year-old attorney from Tulsa. It forces Republicans to spend money and energy doing the same thing, he said.

Being an active Democrat in Oklahoma comes with battle scars, he said. 

“We just had a gentleman from Wisconsin, which is one of the battleground states, speaking to our delegation,” he said. “He referred to us as the tough guys because it’s so rough and tumble in Oklahoma to be a Democrat. There’s a level of respect.”

For an Oklahoma delegate, Frasier said, coming to the convention—which he has done every four years since 1976—is like going to a resort of the mind. At least here, he doesn’t have to constantly argue positions.  

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“It’s a challenge, my man,” Frasier said with a sigh. “Some of the disagreements are stark. Some things my friends in Illinois and California take for granted are issues in Oklahoma.  When I get to the convention, my battery is recharged and it gives me a great deal of hope for this election.”

Baker concurred: “It gives you a high. The adrenaline flows.”

Her son, Bill John Baker, 60, is a delegate and a chief in the Cherokee Nation. More circumspect  and diplomatic than his mother, he offers the eternally ambivalent qualification: “Some of my best friends are Republicans.”

“They can’t help if they’re misguided,” his mother offers.

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Hector.becerra@latimes.com

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