The last primary runoffs before Election Day take place on Tuesday in Oklahoma, as Democrats will select their nominee in the solidly Republican 5th Congressional district. In addition, there will be runoff voting in 13 state legislative districts: seven in the State Senate (all Republican) and six in the State House (2 D, 4R).
I identified some fascinating trends in these types of elections, and have detailed the results of all 42 Congressional, statewide, and state legislative primary runoffs which have taken place in the state over the last four cycles, since 2008. A link to that chart appears at the bottom of this post.
For example, in other states this year, I’ve tracked how incumbents perform in these contests. Recall that in South Carolina this cycle, four out of five state legislators were defeated in their primary runoff, although incumbents in Georgia fared much better. What is interesting about Oklahoma, however, is the near complete lack of incumbents facing runoffs altogether. I found only one such instance since 2008 – that being State Rep. John Auffet. He won the Democratic primary for his House District #86 seat in 2010, only to lose the runoff to current State Rep. William Fourkiller later that summer. There are no incumbents on the ballot Tuesday.
In Oklahoma, the candidate who finished first in the primary has generally done very well in the runoff, winning 71% of the time (30 out of 42 instances). This is about equal to the five-cycle average observed in South Carolina (72%), and above the five-cycle average in Georgia (64%).
In states that have runoffs, getting 40 percent in the primary is often seen as a crucial benchmark, but in Oklahoma, candidates who won their primary while getting 40% of the vote have won their runoff 73% of the time (19 out of 26), which is only slightly better than the winning percentage for all first-place finishers.
What is especially remarkable about primary runoffs in Oklahoma is that they generally aren’t close. Back in 2008, two of the five races were decided by 15 votes and 7 votes, which represented less than a half-percent margin in both races. In the subsequent three cycles (2010 through 2014), just 4 of 37 runoffs (11%) have had a margin of victory of less than 5 percent! In fact, the average margin of victory in Congressional, statewide, and state legislative primary runoffs in the state is 17%, with almost 30 percent of such runoffs (12 of 42) being decided by 25% or more.
The number of votes cast in primary runoffs in the state averages just over 70% of that cast in the original primary, which is very similar to other states. Only once since 2008 have more votes been cast in a primary runoff than in the corresponding primary, and not surprisingly it was in a contest which saw an incredibly low level of turnout. In 2014, just 631 votes were recorded in the four-candidate, HD #89 Democratic primary, which was won by Mary Sosa over Shane Stone. Slightly more votes, 653 in fact, were cast in the runoff, which was won by now-State Representative Stone.
Finally, two runoffs on Tuesday feature GOP State Senate candidates who narrowly missed winning their primary outright in June – that is, they received more than 49% of the vote. Lonnie Paxton finished 33 votes shy of winning his primary in SD #23, while Adam Pugh fell just 9 votes short in SD #41. One might think that such candidates would be certain to win their runoff, but that isn’t necessarily the case. In 2010, James Davenport lost his runoff in SD #44 even though he had come within 2 votes of winning his Republican primary outright four weeks earlier. And already this year, 3 incumbents – State Sen. Creighton Coleman of South Carolina, as well as State Representatives Tom Dickson and John Yates of Georgia, have lost their primary runoff after getting more than 49% of the vote in the primary.