U.S. Representative James Lankford won a Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Oklahoma, one of the nation’s most conservative states.
Lankford, a two-term House member who previously directed a Christian youth camp, topped a seven-candidate field that included T.W. Shannon, a former state House Speaker backed by some national Republican figures aligned with the Tea Party movement.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting in yesterday’s election, Lankford had 57 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Shannon, according to the Associated Press tally, with five other candidates splitting the remainder. By winning at least 50 percent of the vote, Lankford avoided a runoff with Shannon.
Lankford would succeed Republican Tom Coburn, who’s resigning from the Senate in January, two years before his term was to expire. Following the November special election for the seat, it will be up for a full six-year term in 2016.
Lankford will be heavily favored in November’s vote in a state where President Barack Obama won just one-third of the vote in the 2012 election and Democrats last won a U.S. Senate election in 1990.
The Democratic nominee will be determined in a runoff on Aug. 26 between state Senator Connie Johnson and frequent candidate Jim Rogers, who were the top vote-getters in a three-candidate primary. Johnson led Rogers, 44 percent to 35 percent.
Lankford, 46, was elected to Congress as a first-time candidate in 2010, when he beat several state legislators in the Republican primary and was part of the party’s new majority in the House. He has since become part of the House Republican leadership team.
Shannon, 36, was elected to the state House in 2006 and last year became the first black to serve as the chamber’s speaker. He resigned that post in February to concentrate on the Senate race. Shannon, who would become Oklahoma’s first black senator, also is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, an American Indian tribe.
Lankford and Shannon saw eye-to-eye on most policy matters. They oppose abortion rights, same-sex marriage and Obama’s health-care law. In a candidate debate last week, both candidates identified the national debt as the greatest threat to U.S. security.
Lankford, who’s in charge of policy development for the House Republican leadership, touted his efforts to curb federal spending as a member of the budget committee. He noted that Coburn and Oklahoma’s other senator, Republican Jim Inhofe, previously served in the House.
While Oklahoma legislators like Shannon are required under the state constitution to balance the budget, federal budget policy is a “difficult, complicated issue that requires real thought,” Lankford said in the debate.
“This is a critical, difficult moment that’s going to require some experience to be able to take this on,” he said. Shannon described himself as the “most conservative speaker” in Oklahoma history, pointing to his work to resist an expansion of Medicaid, which covers health-care costs for people with limited incomes.
Shannon criticized Lankford’s votes to raise the federal borrowing limit, which many Republican reluctantly supported to avoid a first-ever default by the government.
Congress needs “leaders who are willing to say ‘no’ to more debt and say ‘no’ to more spending, and not come home and make excuses about why they continue to vote to increase the nation’s debt,” Shannon said in the debate.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who in pushing Republican leaders last year to withhold funding for Obamacare as a condition for approving a federal budget helped set the stage for a 16-day partial government shutdown, promoted Shannon’s candidacy in television ads.
Shannon’s allies also included former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the Senate Conservatives Fund, a limited-government activist group that’s accused Republican leaders of capitulating to Obama and Democrats in Congress on fiscal policy. Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, spent about $1.3 million to aid Shannon.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at email@example.com