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Candidates Clash Over Voting Records in Close Oklahoma Senate Race

The race to replace Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., has intensified in the past few weeks with Republican candidate Tom Coburn calling the contest a “battle of good versus evil” and Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Brad Carson saying Coburn does not care about Oklahomans.

Carson, a lawyer and American Indian advocate who speaks often of his Cherokee ancestry, has focused on local and state concerns, such as obtaining federal road money, protecting military bases and helping farmers. Coburn, a family physician and outspoken fiscal and social conservative, accuses his opponent of being a wasteful pork dealer and says he wants to return to Washington to change America.

“This is a race unprecedented in modern American politics,” Carson said. “The question is: Do you think it’s the role of a United States senator to fight for your state? Tom Coburn is the only person in either political party who has made doing nothing for our state the basic tenet of his platform.”

Coburn said, “I think it’s a race that will determine whether Oklahoma is going to fix its problems or if the federal government has to come in and fix them.”

He said he would be attentive to the state’s needs but focus on fixing problems of national scope, including the future of Social Security and Medicare, according to The Oklahoman.

“I’m going to do it both ways, but I’m not going to spend our grandchildren’s money when we don’t have it,” he said.

While the candidates talk about fiscal themes, social issues are very important to Oklahomans, who are expected to handily reelect President Bush — in part due to the national Democratic Party’s stance on gun control, abortion and gay marriage. Carson, who has distanced himself from this year’s Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association in previous races and recently ran an ad saying he opposes gay marriage and voted for legislation banning so-called “partial birth” abortions.

Coburn has criticized Carson on abortion, saying his record, specifically his vote against an amendment to prohibit the use of tax money for overseas abortions, belies his conservative talk on the issue.

“My record is consistent on those issues, and his is not,” Coburn said. “I will compare records. I think our voting records are a fair comparison.”

A poll released Sept. 20 shows the race is nearly a dead heat. The KWTV News 9 poll showed Carson with a 1 percent lead over Coburn — well within the poll’s margin of error.

As recently as August, Coburn had a 9-point lead over Carson in a poll conducted by Wilson Research Strategies, which also administered the most recent poll.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has given the Oklahoma Democratic Party more than $850,000, mostly for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, and has sponsored television and radio ads in the state attacking Coburn for voting against a highway bill that included money for a crucial Oklahoma City project.

The Republican Senatorial Committee has not put out the cash that Democrats have, although an Oklahoma group separate from the state Republican Party has formed to help raise money for the Senate race. The group, Oklahoma Victory, helped bring Vice President Dick Cheney to Tulsa for a fundraiser. Oklahoma’s two Republican senators have also helped raise money, as has Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

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