LAWTON, Okla. (AP) — Five of the seven candidates seeking the Republican nomination in the race for Oklahoma’s open U.S. Senate seat touted their conservative credentials and took turns criticizing President Barack Obama at a forum in Lawton.
Two-term U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Edmond and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon of Lawton are the front-runners to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a hero to conservatives who is foregoing the final two years of his term amid a recurrence of cancer.
Also participating in Friday’s debate were former state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso, college professor Kevin Crow of Chickasha, and Broken Arrow businessman Eric McCray.
Three Democrats and an independent also are in the race, but a Democrat hasn’t been elected to an open U.S. Senate seat in Oklahoma since David Boren in 1978, and Republicans are heavily favored to retain this one. State Republicans are confident the real battle for the seat will be held on June 24, the date of Oklahoma’s primary election. If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a primary runoff will be held on Aug. 26.
Lankford, who has quickly risen to a top leadership post in the Republican-controlled U.S. House, talked about his experience as a member of the House Budget Committee and some of the investigations being conducted by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, upon which he also serves.
He said his work on the federal budget during his more than three years in Congress puts him in a good position to grapple with one of the primary concerns of voters: the national debt and federal deficit.
“I’m very invested into the budget and how to get us out of this,” Lankford said. “The budget that we’re dealing with is a bigger mess than you can possibly imagine.”
With his wife and parents in attendance, Shannon was clearly a hometown favorite at the forum held in the city he has represented in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for eight years. He touted the work he accomplished during his one year as leader of the Republican-controlled House, a position he gave up at the start of the legislative session to focus on his U.S. Senate race.
But he drew the loudest ovations when he delivered lines specifically geared to the conservative crowd, such as his desire to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and “get rid of Harry Reid as the leader of the U.S. Senate.”
Shannon and Brogdon both took some thinly veiled shots at Lankford, criticizing his votes to increase the federal debt limit and painting the two-term congressman as a Washington insider.
Although the candidates have been focusing heavily on Tulsa and Oklahoma City ahead of the primary, Lawton is the state’s third-largest metropolitan area and home to the Fort Sill Army Post, a key economic engine of southwest Oklahoma.
“There are more Republicans down here than there ever have been,” said Steve Fair, the chairman of Republican Party in neighboring Stephens County for 20 years and a longtime party activist. “We’ve got some great candidates, and I don’t have a problem supporting whoever wins the primary.”