OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two rising political stars attempted to avoid a Republican primary runoff for Oklahoma's open U.S. Senate seat, while U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe easily won the GOP nomination Tuesday in his bid to keep the state's other seat for a fourth term.
This year's election is the first time in modern history that both of Oklahoma's U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot at the same time. Besides the full six-year term for Inhofe's post, the state's other Senate seat became open when U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn announced in January that he was foregoing his final two years in office after a recurrence of cancer.
Gov. Mary Fallin also won the GOP nomination in the race for governor, outpacing two pro-marijuana Republican challengers.
A runoff remained a legitimate possibility in the GOP race for U.S. Senate, as two-term U.S. Rep. James Lankford and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon attempted to emerge from a crowded seven-candidate field. If no candidate captures more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff on Aug. 26.
The 46-year-old Lankford, the longtime director of one of the nation's largest Christian youth camps, and Shannon, 36, who last year became both the youngest and the first African-American speaker of the House, emerged quickly as front runners in the race. Both far outpaced their opponents in fundraising, with Lankford reporting total contributions of about $2.1 million, while Shannon reported raising about $1.4 million.
Both candidates also enjoyed support from "dark money" groups that aren't required to list their donors. Much of that support came in the form of attack ads that drew a swift rebuke from Coburn, a political maverick who remains wildly popular in Oklahoma.
On the campaign trail, both Lankford and Shannon touted their conservative credentials. Lankford, who rose quickly through the U.S. House leadership ranks, talked about his willingness to take on government bureaucrats from his perch on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and government reform and delve deep into complicated federal issues like the budget.
Shannon, who won the speaker's race with the help of the Republican caucus' right wing, highlighted his refusal to support a bond issue to pay for state projects and his creation of a special House committee to push back against what he perceived as an overreaching federal government.