Look for the Oklahoma political season to heat up in earnest quickly as we're only three months away from the July 25, 2006 primaries.

Gubernatorial candidate Ernest Istook and his wife, Judy, were making the rounds in Chickasha Thursday.

He was seen at the Chickasha Hotel greeting Rotarians before their meeting.

From there, it was on to Eduardo's for an informal meet and greet.

Later in the day, he met with several business and community leaders before making a stop at The Express-Star.

The six-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma's 5th District is giving up a re-election bid in an attempt to derail Gov. Brad Henry's bid for a second term.

Istook, whose campaign literature describes him as one of the top 20 conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, is clearly the favorite to capture the Republication nomination.

His polling shows him with a commanding 47 point lead over his nearest opponent.

Although some national political watchers say Henry will be hard to beat in November, Istook is encouraged by polling that shows he trails Henry by only eight points - 44 percent to 36 percent.

He likened Henry to a vanilla wafer. Most people like the plain cookie but if given a choice would choose something else, Istook said.

He says he's that choice.

Istook is critical of Henry's handling of a tobacco tax compact with Indian tribes that he says has meant more than $100 million in lost tax revenue to the state.

He also says Henry oversold projections of what a lottery would mean for the state.

Istook is a proponent of improving education by promoting stronger parenting and offering challenging curriculum.

He says we must work hard to retain Oklahoma's best and brightest graduates.

As governor, Istook says he will be pro-active in helping communities attract industry and to create and retain jobs, a message that he hopes hits home in places like Chickasha that will see hundreds of jobs evaporate in the coming months.

Running for governor is an expensive proposition.

Henry's campaign war chest is considerably fatter than Istook's -- by about $2 million -- but Istook says there's plenty of time to bridge that gap.

He thinks it will take about $5 million to run a successful campaign.

The next three months are going to be fun.

Stay tuned.

Jerry Pittman is publisher of The Express-Star. You can e-mail him at jpittman@cnhi.com.

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