Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

Lankford Builds Momentum in Oklahoma Senate Race

lankford senate

Lankford is running for Senate in Oklahoma. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Don’t call it a comeback. Rep. James Lankford was always there.

But the Oklahoma Republican’s Senate bid has picked up momentum ahead of Tuesday’s primary, which now looks likely proceed to a runoff, giving Lankford his clearest shot at the open seat.

To win the GOP nod, the two-term congressman must eclipse the national star power of his most formidable opponent, former state Speaker T.W. Shannon, in a battle that also includes former state Sen. Randy Brogdon and several lesser-known candidates. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the primary vote Tuesday, the top two vote recipients head to an August runoff.

Lankford’s recent rise in polls and on the airwaves are signals that scenario, and his chances of taking the nomination, are increasingly likely, according to Sooner State Republicans.

“It seems to me now like Lankford has the momentum,” said Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston.

That’s a shift from six weeks ago, when Weston said momentum was on Shannon’s side. After all, national Republicans had zeroed in on the Senate hopeful with all the makings of a future GOP superstar: an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, the first black state speaker and the youngest person to ever hold the position.

Shannon went on the airwaves early in the race, building his familiarity with voters statewide. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, endorsed Shannon — he was one of only two Senate candidates Cruz has publicly backed this cycle — and along with Sarah Palin, they rallied for him in April.

But that was before Lankford started his own media campaign in earnest, building on his existing statewide presence grounded in the state’s burgeoning Baptist community. Mike McCarville, who runs the Oklahoma political blog the McCarville Report, agreed that in the final week of the primary, it is now “advantage Lankford.”

Now polling shows Lankford moving ahead, although all recent public surveys on the race have been sponsored by the campaigns or super PACs backing them. An early June internal poll from Lankford’s campaign showed him leading Shannon, 41 percent to 34 percent. That’s a slightly narrower lead than an internal poll from a month before, when Lankford led 43 percent to 33 percent.

The most recent surveys from Shannon’s supporters put him narrowly ahead of Lankford, 39 percent to 37 percent. But there’s a small shift from April, when a similar poll from the same pro-Shannon super PAC showed him ahead of Lankford, 42 percent to 32 percent.

Lankford’s pitch is that while Shannon might look and sound good, the congressman is a workhorse who will actually get things done.

“He sees himself as a messenger, he likes to carry a national message, he likes to carry that out,” Lankford said in a June 10 interview with CQ Roll Call. “I see myself as more of a student, that I love to get down into the weeds of different problems and try to go through that. I don’t mind messaging, but I’m going to default back to the research side of things.”

In a May debate, Lankford lamented, “the reality of going into Washington, D.C., and running into a lot of folks that are there because they like to be celebrities. They like to get on TV. They like to make statements. … You’d ask them hard questions after they’d made a television statement and they didn’t really know the issues. They just knew how to do talking points.”

In a June 13 interview with CQ Roll Call, Shannon portrayed himself as strong messenger for his party with a track record of accomplishments.

“It’s not enough just to be right anymore, we also have to elect leaders who can go out and convince other people that we’re right,” he said, adding that this is why the party has not “been as successful nationally” in recent years.

“I’ve got a record of not just talking about conservative ideas, not just talking about how great it would be, but actually moving conservative ideas into law,” continued Shannon, who never said Lankford’s name in a 10-minute phone interview.

Despite Lankford’s momentum, Weston sees about a 70 percent chance of the race continuing to an Aug. 26 runoff.

Shannon, too, is preparing for that eventuality.

“It’s absolutely a runoff,” he said. “We’ve always anticipated a runoff.”

Lankford joked that his wife, tired of living with a man on the campaign trail, had forbidden that word to be spoken in their house.

But in a runoff with Shannon, Lankford has a built-in advantage: His home turf. A crowded race for his House district is also on track for a runoff, which means there will be multiple voter turnout operations in Lankford’s geographical base on the same date.

As a result, Lankford is likely to easily win Oklahoma City, the biggest media market in the state. Shannon hasfocused his efforts on Tulsa, the second largest media market, in an effort to counter that advantage.

On Tuesday, Brogdon voters will make the difference between Republicans picking a nominee and two more months of runoff campaigning. He’s received between 4 percent and 6 percent in recent polls — enough to keep Shannon and Lankford below the necessary 50 percent threshold in a tight race — but he got 40 percent of the vote in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, making him something of a wild card.

But it’s unclear which candidate would pick up Brogdon’s supporters in a runoff. Several local tea party groups backing Brogdon have been vocal in their dislike for Shannon, calling him not conservative enough in a public letter to national groups.

That should signal they would support Lankford in a runoff, but it’s not evident they like the congressman any better. As a result, there’s a big possibility this group of Republicans could stay home in late August.

This is the special election to succeed Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is resigning at the end of this Congress. The winner of the primary will almost certainly be the next Senator from this solidly Republican state.

The race is rated Safe Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

Correction, June 18, 2:18 p.m.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported when Brogdon ran for governor.

  • Gregory Williams

    Lankford is NOT the right choice – he is the extremist right wing choice …his record in Congress is not that of a legislator it is one of obstruction and destruction of the things that his state needs to make Oklahoma viable at a time when progressive policies must be adopted in order to catch up the years of lost opportunities that conservatives have caused with their partisan social and failed economic games.

    Fact is that Oklahoma is a prime example of a state that will go very blue if the voters decided they want a better standard of living and an actual economy that works for all of the people and not just the rich, the corporate and the oligarchs who control the bought and paid for republicans and libertarian nut cases.

    Populism can be good or it can be abused by conservatives to harm Oklahoma even more.

  • Gerald Wood

    Until blue becomes less radical Oklahoma will stay very red. Oklahomans aren’t big on the murdering of unborn babies.

  • Gregory Williams

    Gee Eef Why.

    Women have the right to make that decision for them selves and your brand of hate and stupidity is a major problem for that state and conservative hate based politics are killing more people than abortion ever could … after you Gee Eff Why you can also self terminate for a better America.

  • ThomasGWilliams

    didn’t they ban you here and on other sites? Go away and stop polluting this site with your ignorant vomit comments.

  • Pragmatic Conservative

    More importantly, women (and men) have a responsibility to take steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Why is it that liberals think the primary purpose of government is to protect people from the foreseeable results of their own actions? Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Birth control is inexpensive, and thanks to Obamacare, employers are being forced to provide coverage for even those types of contraceptives that violate their religious beliefs. And yet liberals think that’s not enough. We have to be able to ensure that women can kill unborn babies if carrying the pregnancy to term would inconvenience them. This at a time when more and more Americans are adopting children from overseas, because there aren’t enough children to adopt in the US.

    Your brand of hate and stupidity is just as bad as that of the extreme right.

  • radsenior

    Rep. James Lankford and Speaker T.W. Shannon are locked in a battle for the republican nod. Both are TEA-types and neither will work for middle America. When Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, endorsed Shannon, that should have sent shock waves across Oklahoma that neither were deserving of representing the state. Both Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz, are avid TEA-types hell-bent on taking over the Republican party. The radicalization is seen in the platform of the Texas TEA party after their takeover of the once proud Republicans.

  • Cpt. States

    If the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in encroachment by men of zeal, then today’s key threats to liberty are centralized administrators.

  • matteo do

    Trading the futures is where the new money is at the best website I’ve found so far is a place called Traders Superstore Google them and you should be able to find them. I have all four of their courses and now trading for myself. The futures is where all the action is now and I never knew how much money there is to make in trading the futures until now.

  • Mark Uss

    It’s important to recognize the dangers to liberty arising from collectivists who seize upon temporary crises and fleeting problems as excuses to further centralize government power.


    The Republican Party has FAILED the three million unemployed workers STILL without an extension bill. It has been more than five months of waiting for these poor families. Many have lost everything. Most have been spiraled into financial ruin, which some might never recover from. These people worked all their lives, paying into the system from their own paychecks, believing that the help would be there for them one day. They soon found out differently. While many prior unemployed workers has received one to two years of benefits, these workers receives just 26 weeks. This is at a time when our economy’s in a recession and jobs that were once there, are not there anymore. There’s also an age discrimination element happening as well. So these families are in very unique and bad situation. They need help. They deserve the same attention and help that the Ukraine received weeks ago from the congress. We approved BILLIONS of tax payer dollars in foreign aid to that country. We also are promising Billions of military aid for the defense of Europe too. Where does the average American fit into all of this? We’re expected to send our sons and daughters off to war, but we can’t expect that the government will help us if we become unemployed. Both political parties have FAILED the American people. The coming election will be a time for these Three Million people to vote in change. We deserve better representation than we currently have at the moment.

  • Yonatan YONATAN

    The government asks for our sons and daughters to send to war, but fails to provide for them when the war is over. They freely will spend billions of dollars for foreign aid, but not pass an unemployment bill, for the three million unemployed families, who have been without benefits, since late last December. For the past six months, the republican senate has held the extension bill “hostage” in the senate, for political leverage, and party politics. While millions of unemployed families continue falling into financial ruin, losing all that they had worked for, over many years. These republicans have shown a total lack of human compassion, and common decency, towards these unfortunate families. Instead of trying to help them, they chose to arrogantly label them as “lazy”, and decided to ignore their pleas for help. Both political parties have utterly failed these people.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...