OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The dust still hasn’t settled on Oklahoma’s 2014 political landscape after U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn triggered a landslide within the state Republican Party with his announcement that he planned to forego his final two years in office.
All eyes are focused on whether Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon and first-term U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, both rising GOP stars with growing national profiles, decide to enter the race for Coburn’s soon-to-be vacant seat. Neither Shannon nor Bridenstine returned telephone messages on Friday, but both have said they are seriously considering the race.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, a two-term Republican congressman from Edmond, already has announced his candidacy, throwing open his 5th District U.S. House seat and setting off another scramble by GOP hopefuls looking to replace him. Lankford has risen quickly among the GOP leadership in the House and is currently the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the fifth-ranking House post.
Lankford’s ties to House leadership and his vote in support of compromises reached with Senate Democrats have drawn criticism from fiscally conservative political action groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club for Growth. That type of criticism could provide an opening for Shannon or Bridenstine to try and position themselves to the right of Lankford.
But Oklahoma GOP voters also may not be influenced much by tea party-aligned groups out of Washington, said Brian Walsh, who served as the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
“Voters in smaller states don’t really react well to outside groups coming in and telling them who to vote for,” Walsh said. “That’s why I think it’s a mistake for some of these groups to attack Lankford so early and say he’s not a conservative.
“A sizable portion of the Oklahoma electorate knows him and knows him to be a conservative.”
Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating is apparently still flirting with the possibility of launching a bid for the U.S. Senate in his home state. In an email to The Associated Press on Friday, Keating said the country needs leaders willing to work across party aisles to tackle issues like the national debt, immigration and an “unsustainable entitlement state.”
“At my age, I don’t want another career,” the 69-year-old Keating wrote, “so my first preference would be to find an outstanding but responsible conservative who would grab a musket and fix these desperate long term challenges.”
The full down-ballot impact of Coburn’s departure has yet to be realized, but it will undoubtedly be significant.
Lankford’s open 5th District U.S. House seat already has drawn announcements from Republican Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, state Sen. Clark Jolley, former state Sen. Steve Russell, and former state Rep. Shane Jett, all Republicans. Several other state legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, are considering a run, which could lead to additional open seats.
Douglas is leaving an open seat on the three-member Corporation Commission, which oversees utilities, telecommunications and the oil and gas industry. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman is among several elected officials who have expressed an interest in that post.
Speaker Shannon’s potential entry into the U.S. Senate race has caused a ripple effect of its own among House Republicans. At least two GOP leaders, Reps. Mike Jackson of Enid and Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, are working to secure votes in case Shannon steps down as speaker.
“There’s still time for plenty of things to happen,” said Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma. “The (candidate) filing period is not until April. Everybody has plenty of time to work this out.”