Who Will Run?

Image of James LankfordImage of Jim Roth

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to retire early from the Senate has so far set off a flurry of commitments and considerations for both his seat and the 5th District Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. James Lankford.

Lankford, pictured far right, has announced he’s running for Coburn’s seat, which means he has to give up his Congressional seat, which is up for re-election as well. At this point, he seems like a frontrunner for the position, but that could change. Conservative groups, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club For Growth are indicating they won’t support Lankford for the position.

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, has announced he’s considering a run for the Senate seat. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of the 1st District Congressional seat has been mentioned as a candidate as well.

Is there an opportunity for Democrats or even real progressives wedged into this new political mix somehow? Will more positions open up as other office holders announce they will run for Coburn’s seat?

The answers, in order: Probably not, and we’ll know soon enough. Serious candidates for Coburn’s seat will need to commit much earlier than the April 11 filing deadline if they want to have a chance of winning.

I can at least envision (perhaps, “dream” is the right word) the unlikely scenario in which a big-name Democrat, such as former Gov. Brad Henry, runs for the Senate seat, and the Republicans splinter in the primary because of Tea Party squabbles, leaving them with a weak candidate in the general election. But that’s probably wishful thinking.

Democrats might have a better chance for Lankford’s Congressional seat. Democrat Tom Guild is already in the race. There’s a grassroots movement to get Democrat Jim Roth, a former Corporation Commissioner, pictured right, to run as well. On the Republican side those mentioned as possible candidates include State Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, former state legislators Steve Russell of Oklahoma and Shane Jett of Tecumseh. Let’s don’t forget that Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett once ran for the seat. Would he do it again?

Again, it’s possible that a crowded Republican field in the primary election could result in a winning GOP candidate that’s not as appealing in the general election. That’s why it’s important Democrats elect the strongest candidate possible in the primary.

If Shannon does run for the Senate seat that could change the dynamic in this year’s legislative session.

In the end, though, the “Obama effect” may well doom any U.S. Senate or House campaign for any Democrat in Oklahoma. Anyone with even a small chance of winning knows this reality far too well. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t run in order to present alternative views to the conservative dogma here, but a Democratic victory in either of these races or in even other races if more Republican office holders decide to run would be a major upset.