Political spotlight shines on Oklahoma ahead of Super Tuesday

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The national media is giving the Sooner State its attention this week, as a parade of presidential candidates pass through before the much-heralded Super Tuesday elections.

Gov. Mary Fallin said all the publicity is a little different than primaries past.

"There are a lot more eyes on Oklahoma this year," she told NewsChannel 4 Wednesday, after her interview with NBC's Chris Jansing, which had set up shop in Bricktown. "It's been fun to have so many of the presidential candidates here, not once, twice but several times and to see the number of Oklahomans that are actually paying attention, going to these rallies and getting involved."

No longer is Oklahoma simply a stop on the route to the presidency.

Rather, the state's political leaders said the state has become high profile and high priority, particularly in a race that is as tight and unpredictable as any in history.

"I don't think I've seen an election like this in my life," said former Gov. Frank Keating, a republican who served two terms in office. "I think momentum is hugely important, and Oklahoma is a significant state in this process because again we are very active politically."

The fact that the state holds its primaries on Super Tuesday only adds muscle, Keating said, while visits from political candidates can stimulate voter turnout.

The state's election board said it has seen a "tremendous surge" in voter registration this year, particularly between Jan. 15 and the Feb. 5 deadline.

There are 2,009,109 registered voters at last count, according to Election Board spokesman Bryan Dean, and turnout always increases in a presidential primary in which where there is no incumbent candidate.

Dean said turnout this year could hit close to a high-water mark.

Independents will get a voice for the first time in the Democratic primary, which could draw in voters who wouldn't normally participate.

"Obviously, you have two very competitive races and a level of excitement we haven't seen before," said NBC Political Correspondent Chris Jansing, who has covered the presidential races for decades. "I think everybody is a little confounded by what we've seen. I don't know anybody who's been in political life who can honestly say they've predicted what's happened here."

Particularly, Jansing said it's unusual to see such an intense democratic fight in a deeply conservative state.

"And, then, on the Republican side, you have this juggernaut that is Donald Trump and you have Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz," she said. "Cruz who would seem almost tailor-made for this state [is] clawing for second place.

"Why, it's just fascinating," she said. "People can't get enough of it."

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett expects a historically-high primary turnout too, because the race is so competitive.

"This year Super Tuesday is very much in play to determine who's going to be the next president," he said. "I think Oklahomans are excited that they actually get to be a part of the discussion."

Cornett said he won't weigh in on that discussion just yet.

He said he's prepared to endorse the GOP nominee, whomever it is.

Fallin hasn't decided whether or not she will endorse a candidate before Tuesday's primary, saying she wants Oklahomans to do their own homework and make an informed decision.

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