NORMAN — The land of the red people, Oklahoma, is one of the reddest states in the nation politically.
Enter Paula Roberts, former election board secretary, educator, and Democrat.
“Everyone told me I was crazy challenging an incumbent Republican,” she said.
But her husband Barry, who hates politics said he’d support her bid and her daughter Amanda put her life on hold to come help Roberts run her campaign. They, along with dozens of supporters knocked doors tirelessly and the effort paid off.
Against all odds, it looked like Roberts had defeated incumbent Aaron Stiles, but a confusion with the numbers and slight discrepancies in two districts meant delayed results. In addition, Amanda Roberts, Paula Roberts’ daughter and campaign manager, reported their estimates put Paula up by a slim 71 votes with the absentee votes still outstanding.
For Roberts and Stiles, it was destined to be a long and bumpy night.
Stiles understands about odds. Two years ago, he stole the seat from long-time Democratic incumbent, Wallace Collins, edging Collins out by a 500 vote margin.
This year’s race was skin tight and too close to call as of press time.
“Of the results I’ve seen, Paula (Roberts) may be the only Democrat to beat an incumbent Republican house member in Oklahoma,” said former president pro tem and longtime state legislator, Cal Hobson.
Hobson said in addition to being an incumbent and a Republican in a red state, Stiles had the money, including virtually all of the PAC money.
“She got the education money, he got all the rest,” Hobson said.
He said hard work and grassroots effort kept Roberts in the race and could ultimately lead to a victory.
“The hard part of campaigning is door-to-door, personal contact,” Hobson said.
Roberts agreed, attributing the success of her campaign to her supporters.
“These people... I’m so humbled. I’m in shock,” she said. “These people came out and they gave me their time. They gave me their money. We ran a grass roots campaign.”
At Stiles’ watch party Tuesday night before results came in, he said he was proud of the way his campaign was run this year which was “100 percent positive.”
“I could do everything just perfectly and it’ll still always be close,” Stiles said. “It’s a district that’s always close and it’s always going to be close.”
Collins held the seat for 8 years before being unseated by Stiles two years ago. In the current campaign, Stiles defeated Republican challenger Derick Jensen by a generous 75 percent margin in the June 26 primary.
“This particular election —I’ve never seen a campaign run more nasty than this one here and I’ve been on campaign the last 12 years with Congressman Watts,” he said.
Hobson praised Roberts’ courage to “tell the truth” about Stiles.
Roberts served as the Cleveland County Election Board secretary from 1989 until 2011 and was a Norman teacher.
She is a longtime Norman resident. As a 15-year breast cancer survivor, Roberts has said she will champion women’s health needs and will promote programs for early detection and treatment. Her 30 years as a military spouse has given her a deep respect for veterans the needs of military families. Roberts has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma.
Stiles was born and raised in Cleveland County. He is owner and lead counsel for the Stiles Legal Group, based in Norman. He and wife, JoAnne, have been married eight years.