Republicans are not considered likely to win the eastern Oklahoma seat being vacated by Rep. Brad Carson (D), but Wayland Smalley (R) is energetically taking on the uphill fight.
Smalley, a commercial horse breeder and self-described “political outsider” whose campaign slogan is “By Golly, Vote for Smalley,” says he wants to shake up the establishment in Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]
He is a partner in the family owned and operated C. & S. Stables Inc., where he oversees most aspects of the farm.
“I do it all, from vet tech work to shoveling stalls,” Smalley writes in the “My History” portion of his campaign Web site. “I have been frozen in the winter
and the Oklahoma sun in July will peel the hide off an old boot.”
But Smalley doesn’t like to talk much about the thoroughbred racehorse breeding business on the campaign trail. He thinks it is “tacky” for politicians to use their campaigns as a platform to promote their businesses.
Instead Smalley is talking about issues, putting out position papers and building his shoestring campaign from the ground up.
Smalley says his message is resonating with voters, and he touts his grassroots network of small donors as evidence of that.
His first FEC report showed he had raised about $6,000 and he estimates that he’s added another $4,000 to $5,000 to that total. Most of his contributions are small, some less than a dollar as he collects coins by putting out a “change for change” jar at his events.
He also has a Smalley for Congress shooting match planned in October, although the exact date and location are yet to be determined. The first prize is a lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association.
“I have a true grassroots deal going,” Smalley said. “I don’t have the big PAC money coming in simply because I’m not a politician. I’m just a citizen that stepped up after 9/11.”
Smalley said the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, motivated him to get involved politically, although he’s always been an enthusiastic political observer. He traces his interest in politics back to an encounter with then-President Ronald Reagan when he was a 17-year-old high school student in Montana.
“He impressed me so much that I followed politics, up until now, closely,” Smalley said.
But after the 2001 attacks he said he couldn’t be satisfied just being a political observer.
“I was sort of called to be a participant,” he said. “So I jumped in.”
Smalley said he has been watching the political process from the sidelines for years.
“I understand what the meatgrinder is like on the floor in the House,” he said. “My wife just hates me because I watch C-SPAN. I watch the House proceedings as entertainment. It drives her crazy.”
The 40-year-old C-SPAN junkie also thinks that his job has been good training for Congress.
“I can promise one thing, after running a commercial breeding farm for 10 years: I know horse apples when I see them,” Smalley promises on his Web site.
When asked what horse apples were, Smalley admitted it was a phrase he had subbed in to avoid using profanity.
“My wife told me I couldn’t say the s— word so … I was being polite there,” he said.
Smalley describes himself as a very spiritual person who tries to “keep my nose out of other folks’ business.”
His Web site also explains that his great-grandmother, Emma Jane Beck, grew up with Will Rogers and his maternal grandparents owned a store near Vinita, Okla. They also had the only phone in the area and the first television set, “which attracted many friends and family for ‘I Love Lucy’ nights.”
His father is originally from Wyoming, and Smalley grew up in Billings, Mont.
Now, Smalley lives between Claremore and Chelsea.
“It takes about 15 minutes to get to $4 milk, so at three o’clock in the morning if you run out of milk for your cereal, in the middle of the night, you’re pretty much stuck,” Smalley explained.
The state’s filing deadline is June 23 but so far Smalley is the only Republican to file in the race. If Smalley is the GOP nominee he will likely face either state Rep. Dan Boren or former District Attorney Kaylan Free, the leading Democrats vying to succeed Carson.
While the demographics of the vastly rural, conservative district favor Democrats — and the 2nd district race is far from national Republicans’ radar screen — Smalley said skeptical observers shouldn’t be too quick to write off his chances.
“It’s 3-to-1 registered Democrat but it’s 99-to-1 conservative,” Smalley said. “So it’s not as uphill as it would appear just looking at the registration.”
He also said his message is resonating with Democratic, Republican and independent voters alike. His campaign Web site offers visitors a “conservative test” to determine whether they agree with his positions.
“I know my neighbors. Everybody goes to church. Everybody wants to keep their guns. Nobody wants gay marriage and everybody’s against abortion. … That’s the kind of district this is,” he said.
Smalley said the campaign eventually hopes to add a media presence to its ground game. He has two people currently working on creating his first commercial “at a very reasonable cost” to him.
He’s also cutting costs by maintaining three “virtual” campaign offices. That allows him to keep his facility costs to phone lines only. He has two employees, a campaign manager and a scheduler.
“We just talk to each other on the phone and by e-mail,” Smalley said. “I decided why do I need suites of offices with oak furniture and 50 secretaries when my manager, my scheduler and I can all have a phone and get as much done as 90 paid staff do.”
While Smalley is realistic about his chances, he is thoroughly enjoying getting inside the process he has enjoyed watching from the sidelines for so long.
“I realize it’s an uphill battle but honestly when I jumped in, I was ready to push that rock up the hill by myself with my wife at my side,” he said. “I’m having the best time.”