OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt held off a bruising challenge to his reelection on Tuesday, defeating Democrat Joy Hofmeister despite millions of dollars in attack ads against him.
Stitt, 49, was aided in part by a late infusion of advertisements from the Republican Governor's Association that linked Hofmeister to President Joe Biden, who lost every one of the state's 77 counties in the 2020 presidential election and remains unpopular in the state. The ads also criticized Hofmeister, the state's superintendent of public schools who switched parties to run against Stitt, for supporting a series of tax increases in 2018 that helped fund pay raises for teachers.
"The American dream is alive and well in the great state of Oklahoma," an enthusiastic Stitt told a group of supporters at an Oklahoma City watch party. "Oklahomans stated loud and clear today that they are proud of how far they've come.
"We're going to keep this momentum going for four more years."
Hofmeister, 58, had been blasting Stitt on the campaign trail for his voucher-style plan to divert public education money to private schools, an issue that concerned voters in deep-red rural swathes of the state with few private-school options for students.
But Stitt, a wealthy mortgage company owner who dumped nearly $2 million of his own money into his campaign in the closing weeks, told voters he was making progress on his promise of four years ago to improve the state's low rankings in many quality-of-life indicators. The loans to his campaign boosted his total fundraising haul to more than $10 million, more than triple the $3.1 million raised by Hofmeister.
He boasted of record-level state savings and funding for public schools under his watch, and the state's rapid emergence from pandemic-related closures that helped the economy rebound quickly and keep the state's unemployment rate low.
"The turnaround that you elected me to do, it is working," he told a crowd of more than 300 gathered at the Crossroads megachurch on Oklahoma City's south side for a rally last week with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. A separate rally was held with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Tulsa.
Jessica Perez, 46, cast her ballot Tuesday for Stitt at Oklahoma Christian University and said his oversight of the state during the pandemic appealed to her.
"It didn't make sense to me that you could go to Home Depot, but not to church," Perez said. "I believe he's an effective leader. What he says he's going to do, he does."
Stitt also survived a barrage of blistering attack ads from dark-money groups, which don't have to report their donors and spent millions since the June primary hammering his school-voucher plan. Other ads highlighted his mass release of prisoners and a series of scandals in his administration, including a lucrative no-bid contract with a barbecue restaurant, misspent pandemic relief funds for education and his plans to build a new state mansion.
The dark-money attacks on Stitt and other media boosting Hofmeister followed ongoing feuds Stitt has engaged in with many of the 39 federally recognized Native American tribes, another issue Hofmeister hits hard on the campaign trail.
"This campaign has always been about more than partisan politics," Hofmeister told supporters at a watch party in Oklahoma City after conceding the election to Stitt. "It was about homeowners. It was about home towns. About standing up for what is right. It was about putting team Oklahoma first."
Independent Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City anesthesiologist and former Republican state senator, and Libertarian Natalie Bruno of Edmond also ran on the gubernatorial ballot. ___
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