Oklahoma County could be key in U.S. Senate race

Since at least 1968, no U.S. Senate candidate has won a competitive primary or general election race without winning Oklahoma County, the home turf of Rep. James Lankford.
by Chris Casteel Published: June 1, 2014
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With primary elections only about three weeks away, U.S. Rep. James Lankford would seem to hold a key advantage in the Republican contest to succeed U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.

That advantage is Oklahoma County.

It’s like Ohio for Republican presidential candidates — no GOP nominee has won the presidency without taking Ohio since Abraham Lincoln.

Since at least 1968, no state candidate of either party has won a U.S. Senate seat or a contested primary for a U.S. Senate seat without carrying Oklahoma County.

Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has represented most of Oklahoma County in Congress since 2011 and recent polls show him way ahead in the county, along with neighboring counties that aren’t in his congressional district but are in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and media market.

State Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and an independent group supporting his candidacy have recently made major television ad time purchases in the Oklahoma City media market hoping to close the gap in the area.

Trebor Worthen, a strategist for Shannon’s campaign, said Friday, “I don't believe there is any county in the state that we don't have a chance to win at this point. Oklahoma County in particular is one where our message resonates with conservative voters. Just like Republicans across the state, they are tired of the increased debt and the increased spending.

“What we have seen in this campaign is that voters have moved dramatically toward T.W. as they have learned more about his conservative record and his vision for America. The first public poll had us trailing Congressman Lankford by 37 points, but the most recent one shows a dead heat. We believe this positive movement toward T.W. will only continue."

Public polls

The most recent public poll, done for News9/News on 6 had Lankford with only a slight overall edge, but he was up by 40 points in his own congressional district; Shannon had a 26-point lead in the 1st congressional district, which includes Tulsa County.

Polling by the candidates and outside groups providing financial support has also shown Lankford leading in his home area and Shannon leading in Tulsa.

Though some in Shannon’s camp and some neutral political experts have asserted that Shannon could win the nomination without a run-off — necessary if neither candidate gets 50 percent of the vote — that would defy at least four decades of history if Lankford holds his home county as expected.

Veteran pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of the Tarrance Group, said the question of Lankford winning Oklahoma County “is not an issue of ‘if’ but rather ‘by how much.’” Because of that, Goeas said, Lankford could win the nomination without a run-off, but Shannon’s best outcome would be forcing a run-off.

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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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