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Oklahoma Senate race takes shape, as U.S. Rep. James Lankford gets in

Lankford, a Baptist pastor and rising star in the GOP leadership, is already drawing flack from conservative activists

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

oklahoma mugOKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Oklahoma Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Coburn, getting into a race that’s shaping up as a battle between the GOP establishment and its Tea Party wing.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

Lankford, 45, a Baptist pastor who was first elected to represent the state’s 5th District — based in and around Oklahoma City — in 2010, says he feels “a clear calling” to seek higher office.

“The Senate is currently the most contentious body in our government,” Lankford said in a YouTube video announcing his Senate bid. “I want to continue to bring Oklahoma common sense and solutions to a place that needs both.”

In just his second term in Congress, Lankford was elected as chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fifth highest position in the House leadership. He also has a coveted seat on the influential House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee.

However, that insider resume is already drawing fire from Senate Conservatives Fund, an activist group that has angered Senate GOP leaders by backing Tea Party insurgents trying to topple incumbents.

“We have reviewed his record, and it’s clear that conservatives cannot count on him to fight for their principles,” said Matt Hoskins, the group’s executive director, in a statement.

The group is critical of Lankford for his support of the recent bi-partisan budget deal, designed to avoid a government shutdown, as well as his votes to increase the federal debt limit. He’s also being criticized for a comment he made last summer that he “wouldn’t prohibit forever” illegal immigrants working their way to legal status.

The SCF is pushing instead for first-term U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa to run for Coburn’s seat. Bridenstine, a Tea Party favorite, made headlines last year after he voted against the re-election of Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Bridenstine has said he is considering the race but has not announced a decision.

Two other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for Coburn’s seat, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, have said they will not run.

Coburn, 65, who is battling prostate cancer, announced January 17 that he would leave office at the end of the year, triggering a special election for the remaining two years of his term.

View Lankford’s announcement statement:

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