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ANALYSIS: Will U.S. Senate campaign 'gamble' pay off?

The group supporting state Rep. T.W. Shannon for the U.S. Senate was likely to turn negative first. The idea that Shannon could be the candidate who could pull off a first-round victory was far-fetched.
by Chris Casteel Modified: June 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm •  Published: June 8, 2014

The dark-money group backing state Rep. T.W. Shannon for the U.S. Senate made a necessary gamble with its negative ads and mail about U.S. Rep. James Lankford.

After a burst of momentum that followed Shannon’s first advertising blitz and out-of-state celebrity endorsements, the race to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn settled into the day-to-day grind, and hundreds of ads portraying Shannon a Christian conservative were only going to go so far.

Oklahoma political veterans predicted weeks ago that an outside group — there is also one backing Lankford that, so far, has been even less transparent than the one backing Shannon — would go negative as soon as it looked like their man could lose without a run-off.

It was always likely to be Shannon backers who turned negative first. The idea that Shannon could be the candidate who could pull off a first-round victory was far-fetched given Lankford’s strong political base in Oklahoma County, which is absolutely crucial in Republican primaries.

Voters and television viewers should soon know whether the negative turn worked. If polling shows Lankford’s support weakening, the group backing Lankford could join the fray. Then, the 35 and older demographic watching “Wheel of Fortune” and the local news will get a steady loop of grainy images of Shannon and Lankford and a narrator intoning darkly of their misdeeds or liberal tendencies.

The gamble for the pro-Shannon group — that is, the anonymous donors behind it — is that the ads against Lankford create a backlash that winds up crushing Shannon on June 24 and leaving Republican voters with a bad feeling about the black member of the Chickasaw Nation who has been groomed by party leaders for a national role.

Lankford’s high crimes, according to the group, were two votes to raise and suspend the nation’s debt ceiling and his vote for a bipartisan budget agreement that was supported by President Barack Obama. The language in the ad borders on parody, and the mailers are similarly over the top.

Oklahoma U.S. Senate race turns negative Republican Senate candidates participate in forum T.W. Shannon says outside groups should stick to issues,...

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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