Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman pulled off a surprise victory in the deeply conservative Tulsa County district in Oklahoma, continuing a trend of Democrats outperforming expectations in special elections in the Sooner State. President Donald Trump had secured the county by nearly 40 points.
On Nov. 14, Ikley-Freeman defeated Republican candidate Brian O'Hara in the contest for Senate District 17. She will succeed outgoing GOP State Sen. Dan Newberry, who had trounced a Democratic contender by 15 percentage points in 2016, Tulsa World reports.
Ikley-Freeman, who is gay, is a mental health counselor. After working on the campaign for Democrat State Rep. Karen Gaddis of Oklahoma in July 2017, she mounted her own long shot campaign.
"We knew it wasn't an easy win," Ikley-Freeman said. "But I wasn't looking for an easy win. I was looking for something that could be done with hard work."
Oklahoma is among the nation's most conservative states. In the 2016 election, Trump claimed every county in the Sooner State. He had won Tulsa County by 39 percentage points, according to Shareblue Media.
The GOP also holds a super majority in the Oklahoma Legislature. Before Ikley-Freeman's election, Democrats only held 28 out of the 100 seats in the state house, CNN reports.
Ikley-Freeman edged out O'Hara by a slim 31 votes. Overall, roughly 4,400 voters in Tulsa County cast a ballot in the special election, a small pool compared to the 32,000 who participated during the 2016 general election, Tulsa World notes.
"When we were knocking on doors, so many people said, 'Thank you,'" Ikley-Freeman recalled. "We didn't know there was an election."
Ikley-Freeman is the fourth Democrat to flip a historically conservative seat in Oklahoma this year. On July 12, Gaddis and Democrat Michael Brooks both won a state House and Senate seat, respectively, according to Shareblue Media. Both of their districts had sided with Trump by double-digits in 2016.
On Sept. 12, Democrat Jacob Rosecrants won over Republican Scott Martin for a state House seat in Oklahoma despite having lost the same matchup by 20 percentage points in the 2016 election, CNN reports.
"My personal theory is that during special elections we have a better opportunity to connect with voters and talk to them about local issues," Anna Langthorn, the chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma Republican Chair Pam Pollard asserted that Democrats were performing well in the Sooner State because they had more incentive to regain representation.
"Republicans are much more laid back and take these seats for granted," Pollard said. "Democrats are finding themselves in the position that Republicans were in 15 or 20 years ago, they have a cause to fight for. They are motivated to try and take their state back."
Ikley-Freeman will enter the Oklahoma state House in February 2018.