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Oklahoma’s House Speaker, T.W. Shannon, running for U.S. Senate

As Shannon gets in, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine says he won’t run to replace Tom Coburn

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

oklahoma mugOKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon is running for his state’s open U.S. Senate seat, setting up a Republican primary between two rising GOP stars in the Sooner State.

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon

“As bad as things are right now, I have great hope for our future,” Shannon said in a YouTube video announcing his candidacy January 29. “If conservatives here in Oklahoma and across America will unite and send the right leaders to Washington, we can restore prosperity.”

Meanwhile, as Shannon got in to the race, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa, a Tea Party favorite, announced that he would not run in a special election to fill the seat that U.S. Senator Tom Coburn plans to vacate at the end of the year.

That sets up a primary race between Shannon and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, a member of the House leadership. Given Oklahoma’s strong Republican tendencies, the winner of the primary is a prohibitive favorite to capture the seat in November.

Shannon, 35, from Lawton, is an African-American and also an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. A one-time aide to former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, Shannon rocketed to prominence in state politics, becoming speaker just six years after being elected in 2006.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

Lankford, 45, who represents much of metro Oklahoma City in the House, is likewise a man in a hurry. In just his second term in Congress, he was elected head of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fifth highest position in the House GOP 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 has drawn fire from some Tea Party and conservative groups who had been urging Bridenstine to get into the race.

Bridenstein issued a statement January 29 saying that while he was “honored and overwhelmed by encouragement to succeed” Coburn, he decided not to make the race.

The winner of November’s special election will complete the final two years of Coburn’s term. The veteran senator, who has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer, announced January 17 that he would step down at the end of the current Congress.

View Shannon’s announcement video:

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, Chickenfriedpolitics.com 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:

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn will resign at the end of current Congress

Coburn’s decision triggers second Senate election in the state this fall

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

oklahoma mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma says he will leave office at the end of the year, triggering an election in November for the remaining two years of his term.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

Coburn, 65, has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer. But he said in a statement that “this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires.”

“My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms,” said Coburn, who was elected to the Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010. “Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career.”

“I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”

Because Coburn is staying until the end of the year, his replacement will be selected by the voters, rather than by gubernatorial appointment.

The state’s other Senate seat, held by Republican James Inhofe, is also up for election in 2014. Inhofe is seeking a fourth full term.

Coburn’s decision will likely set off a scramble among Republicans for his seat. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole of Moore, James Lankford of Oklahoma City and Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa are being mentioned, as is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Given Oklahoma’s Republican tendencies, a Democratic pickup of Coburn’s seat would seem unlikely. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Sooner State since 1990.

Coburn was an obstetrician in Muskogee when he entered politics by capturing a U.S. House seat in the Republican wave of 1994, winning in the 2nd District, which at the time was a Democratic bastion in the northeast corner of the state.

In 1997, he was part of a group of conservative House Republicans that led an ultimately unsuccessful coup to oust then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, earning him the ire of many GOP colleagures.

He didn’t seek re-election in 1998, abiding by a pledge he made to serve no more than two terms.

In 2000, Coburn returned to politics by winning U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Don Nickles and was easily re-elected in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote. He had already said he would not run again in 2016 because of his self-imposed two-term limit.

In the Senate, Coburn has been a determined foe of wasteful government spending. Each year, he publishes a Wastebook, which highlights the more “egregious” examples of federal pork.

Coburn has faced serious medical issues, starting with melanoma as a young man before he went to medical school. He has also had colon cancer and had a benign brain tumor removed in 2007.

In November, he disclosed that he was being treated for a recurrence of prostate cancer. In January, he told Politico that he felt he was still strong enough to finish out his term, despite undergoing chemotherapy, but that health issues might force him to leave early.

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