Friday, September 19, 2014

Race of the Day- Oklahoma U.S. Senate B

46 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Safe Republican

This was the final race added to the November calender after a series of moves allowed for a special election to fill a not yet vacant Senate seat. Republican Tom Coburn had long intended to retire after two terms were up after 2016, but at the beginning of this year, he announced he would resign two years early. A physician himself, the conservative Coburn has been treated for prostate cancer during his current Senate term, and while his diagnosis does not seem to be dire, he has previously battled cancer, and is stepping aside at the end of this year, to deal with his health challenges.

His decision also opened up a Senate seat, two years early, in a state where Republicans figure they have a major edge. Just about every prominent member of the party in the state was asked about running in the special election, when the contest was announced. Whomever wins is of course guaranteed two years in the U.S. Senate, but will need to run again in 2016. While most of those Republicans decided against running, two major candidates emerged, along with some more minor competitors. They included former State Senator Randy Brogdon, a Tea Party identifying candidate who dropped out of a Gubernatorial primary against an incumbent to enter this race instead.

Under Oklahoma law, candidates were to meet in a July primary and then if nobody received the 50 percent threshold, a runoff would be held several weeks later in late August. Since the GOP field would be crowded, it was considered very likely that the race would go to a runoff between Congressman James Lankford and State Representative T.W. Shannon, a former Speaker of the State Legislature.

First elected to Congress in 2010, Lankford was considered the choice of many in the establishment. He certainly had a powerful political base by virtue of his past role as the director of a camp in the state for Baptist youth. That had helped him build networks among religious voters in the state and brought him a good deal of name recognition. At just 36 years old, Shannon was also considered a political up and comer. An African-American, who also had a Native American heritage, Shannon was seen as somebody who could bring much needed diversity to Republicans on Capitol Hill. He would be endorsed by many national figures, included Sarah Palin, as well as Tea Party groups, although some local chapters were supporting Lankford.

Some Republicans probably regretted that one of the two promising candidates would have to lose the nomination, but the race would soon become fairly heated. Lankford had at least a bit of a lead from the start, but Tea Party allies of Shannon ran attack ads criticizing the Congressman for some of his votes in Washington, where he had joined the House Leadership team. They said that Lankford was not sufficiently conservative enough, causing many in the state to chime to vouch for him, including Coburn who would remain officially neutral in the primary battle to succeed him. Some of Lankford's allies fired back by saying that Shannon was close to some "establishment" types too, but the back and forth seemed to have the effect of harming Shannon, as the attacks on Lankford were considered over the top and not believable. Ironically enough, Shannon might have very well had nothing to do with the tactics used by his supporters and their PACs.

The primary between the two men was expected to be fairly tight, with Lankford finishing first, and headed to a runoff, but the results were somewhat surprising. Not only did Lankford place first, he won over 57 percent of the vote, beating Shannon by a whopping 23 points. Brogdon was barely on the radar finishing at just five percent. Clearly, Lankford's support among religious social conservatives were paramount to victory and all the efforts on behalf of Shannon by national Tea Party groups did not prevent nearly enough conservative voters from backing Lankford. There would be no runoff, as Lankford was the official GOP nominee, and pretty close to claiming the title of Senator-Elect in the very Republican state.

The Democrats also had a primary contest for this seat and the results were a bit unusual. The party establishment was supporting State Senator Connie Johnson in her bid to become the first black woman nominated for statewide office in the state, as well as the first female nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Oklahoma. While she placed first in the primary with 44 percent of the vote, it would be her, and not Lankford who would be forced to endure a runoff. In second place was Jim Rogers, a 79 year old reclusive perennial candidate. Somehow he had wound up as the party's official nominee in 2010 against Coburn for the Senate. That result, as well as this year's are indicative that not a lot of Oklahoma Democrats are really focused on their party's U.S. Senate primaries. Perhaps, some older voters might think that Jim Rogers is somehow on par with famed Oklahoma Democrat of yesteryear Will Rogers. A third Democrat in the 2014 field, Patrick Hayes, who also seemed to have not actively campaigned captured 21 percent of the vote, bringing about the need for the runoff. Democrats probably breathed a sigh of relief when Johnson prevailed over Rogers in August by just 16 percent in a low turnout result.

Of course, State Senator Johnson is facing pretty tall odds to become a United States Senator. She is considered a good deal too far left for the state and  Lankford has huge advantages across the board and is expected to easily win one of the two Senate elections this year in the Sooner State, along with perhaps every other Republican on the statewide and Congressional ballot. That is exactly what happened in the 2010 midterm.

Lankford is on pace to a Senate election having defeated main opponents who were African-American in both a primary and general election. The only other example I can think of who did that was Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland in 2006. While it is certainly true that there have not been many black U.S. Senators over the years, Lankford is poised to do something that may be even rarer and become a Ginger in the Senate.

Lankford campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 10 D (6 Safe, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup), 16 R (7 Safe, 2 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
Overall predicted thus far: 44 D, 46 R (net Republican gain of 6)


At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Conservative Democrat said...

Oklahoma will NEVER elect an African American United States Senator in my lifetime.


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