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Democrats capture GOP-held state seat in red Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Democratic schoolteacher defeated a Republican businessman in a special election for an Oklahoma state House seat in a traditionally GOP district, making it the third GOP-held seat Democrats have captured in special elections in the red state this year.

Unofficial election results from Tuesday's election show Democrat Jacob Rosecrants won 60 percent of the vote over Republican Darin Chambers for the House District 46 seat in west Norman, despite a nearly 3,000 voter-registration advantage for the GOP there.

Republicans still hold a 72-28 edge in the Oklahoma House, but Democrats have been chipping away at GOP advantages in the Legislature.

Rosecrants and Chambers were vying to replace Republican former state Rep. Scott Martin, who resigned in May to take a position as director of the Norman Chamber of Commerce.

A seventh-grade geography teacher, Rosecrants focused on improving public education. He also tapped into growing voter frustration over state budget problems and several recent sex scandals involving Republican officials.

On the day of the election, a Republican state senator resigned from office after an Uber driver told police he grabbed her head and kissed her neck while she drove him to a bar in June. Former state Sen. Bryce Marlatt, a married father of four from Woodward, was the third GOP state legislator to resign from office this year amid a sex scandal in Oklahoma.

State Rep. Dan Kirby resigned in February after being accused of sexually harassing two former legislative assistants, and ex-state Sen. Ralph Shortey was indicted in federal court last week on charges of child sex trafficking and producing and transporting child pornography. In both of those Republican-leaning districts, Democratic candidates defeated Republicans in special elections.

Republicans in Oklahoma hold a 3-to-1 advantage in legislative seats along with every statewide elected office, both U.S. Senate seats and all five U.S. House seats. But Democrats are hoping to build on the momentum of victories in special elections.

Democratic candidates for governor in 2018 already are hammering on budget and education issues as term-limited Republican Mary Fallin leaves office, and Democrats believe the congressional seat held by Republican Rep. Steve Russell in Oklahoma City could be within reach.

Funding for public schools and other services has dwindled in recent years as the Legislature cut taxes on both individual income and oil and natural gas production. The state has grappled with budget shortfalls since oil and gas prices plummeted around 2014. Schoolteachers haven't had a raise in a decade, and over the past three years, state funding for public schools has declined by more than $48 million, even as student enrollment increased by nearly 8,000.

"Right now our state is failing because of Republican leadership," said Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Anna Langthorn. "I think (Rosecrant's victory) is indicative of the trend that Oklahomans are frustrated, they're paying attention and that we'll continue to see success in 2018 and we'll probably surprise a lot of people."

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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