Special Note: I am starting a new series trying to give a run down and evaluation of the key primary races across the nation. The goal ultimately is to use the grassroots organizations at the Conservative Union and our sister organizations to pick the best conservative candidate possible. This is the first in that series.
Oklahoma was a race nobody even considered several weeks ago. Sen. Tom Coburn was ready and able to serve out the rest of his term, and then retire happily to greener pastures.
However, Sen. Coburn decided enough was enough. Whether it was his ailing health, or the worsening political climate in D.C., it started a tough race to see who would take his coveted Senate seat.
Here are the current list of candidates:
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is a current member of the House of Representatives, representing Oklahoma’s 5th district, which encompasses the central portion of the state, including the capital, Oklahoma City. Lankford succeeded current governor, Mary Fallin, in that district.
Lankford is very likely to get the core of the Oklahoma GOP delegation behind his candidacy, including Sen. Coburn and Gov. Fallin.
However, numerous conservative groups are opposed to him. Lankford has traditionally been relatively conservative, but has supported the GOP leadership on many occasions against the hard-line austerity hawks and others. Club for Growth, who adores Coburn, opposes Lankford’s candidacy. As an example, Club for Growth gives Coburn a 96% score for conservatism, while they only give a 78% score to Lankford.
Senate Conservatives Fund has also that it won’t support his Senate bid “because of his past votes to increase the debt limit, raise taxes, and fund Obamacare. “We have reviewed his record and it’s clear that conservatives cannot count on him to fight for their principles,” added Matt Hoskins, the group’s executive director.
Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon is a new name to national conservatives, but quickly got the attention of some of the larger conservative groups.
Former Sen. J.C. Watts was considering a run, but it appears he will take a pass, and many observers believe he will support Shannon’s candidacy. That will provide him with a great amount of legitimacy going forward.
Shannon has advocated the sale of unused state properties. He has focused on spending tax dollars on much-needed infrastructure repairs, such as deficient bridges and roads. Shannon also has advocated a measure to require Oklahoma recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) to perform at least 35 hours of work activities or be denied aid. The program was ultimately scaled back significantly.
Currently, a survey from GOP firm Harper Polling gives Lankford 54 percent support among GOP primary voters, while Shannon takes 18 percent support and paramedic James Weger takes just 1 percent. Twenty-seven percent are undecided. Most of the margin however is because of Shannon’s low name recognition.
Right now, it appears the other potential big names in the race, including the aforementioned Watts, Rep. Tom Cole, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, and former Gov. Frank Keating, among others, will take a pass. It is very like this will be a Lankford vs. Shannon race, with the prime political players in the state aligning behind one or another.
Although the traditional conservative groups have lined up against Lankford, that by no means makes him a moderate. He is pro-gun, pro-austerity, and anti-Obamacare. The real debate will be whether going forward Shannon or Lankford will be a more effective voice for core conservative principles.