Congressman James Lankford will be the Oklahoma GOP’s nominee for the U.S. Senate after defeating opponent T.W. Shannon, the state’s first African American House speaker, on Tuesday night. Lankford is heavily favored to win the open seat in the general election, which was opened up by Republican Senator Tom Coburn’s retirement.
The contest featured two ascendant political stars, each with strong support from prominent Republicans.
Rep. James Lankford rose to become the fifth-ranking Republican in the House just two years after winning his seat in the 2010 Republican wave. He served as an ambassador between the more establishment GOP leaders and his own tea party-infused class, taking strong conservative positions while still urging members to accept the occasional debt ceiling compromise.
But he faced a stiff challenge from T.W. Shannon, who argued that Lankford’s debt ceiling votes showed an insufficient commitment to slashing spending.
Shannon attracted strong support from tea party groups and conservative leaders, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Some supporters argued that Shannon's diverse background – his mother is black and his father is Chickasaw – gave the party a rare opportunity to expand its appeal to minority voters by elevating him to the Senate.
“His name alone!” Palin said at one Shannon rally, according to The New York Times. “The Democrats accuse us of not embracing diversity? Oh, my goodness, he is — he’s it. He is the whole package.”
Shannon, for his part, downplayed this aspect of his campaign.
Lankford enjoyed a late boost from Coburn, who – while technically neutral – recorded an ad praising Lankford in response to negative ads by the tea party Senate Conservatives Fund, which endorsed Shannon.