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Thad Cochran survives Mississippi Senate runoff

In Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. James Lankford wins Republican nomination for open U.S. Senate seat

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Buoyed by an influx of support from Democratic and independent voters, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran has turned back a bitter GOP primary challenge in Mississippi, defeating State Senator Chris McDaniel.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

Cochran, 76, took 51 percent of the vote in the June 24 runoff, compared to 49 percent for McDaniel. The runoff was triggered when neither man captured a majority in the first round of voting June 3.

“We all have the right to be proud of our state tonight,” Cochran told his jubilant supporters. “Thank you for this wonderful honor and wonderful challenge that lies ahead.”

But a clearly unhappy McDaniel refused to concede, criticizing Cochran’s campaign for appealing to black and Democratic voters in order to win the primary and stay in office.

“There is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats,” McDaniel said. “So much for principle.”

Cochran will now face former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in November’s general election.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. James Lankford has captured the Republican nomination for the Sooner State’s open U.S. Senate seat, defeating former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

Lankford took 57 percent of the vote, compared to 34 for Shannon, with five other Republican candidates trailing the front-runners.

Given Oklahoma’s pronounced Republican tendencies, Lankford will be the heavy favorite in November’s general election. The Democrats will decide an August 26 runoff between State Senator Connie Johnson from Oklahoma City and retired teacher Jim Rogers.

The Oklahoma seat opened up when U.S. Senator Tom Coburn announced he would retire at the end of this year due to health issues.

The race in Mississippi pitted Cochran and the state’s Republican establishment against Tea Party activists and outside conservative groups — such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth — that strongly backed McDaniel.

Outside groups on both sides poured millions in advertising into the Magnolia State, clogging its relatively inexpensive airwaves.

After trailing McDaniel in the first round of voting, Cochran’s campaign began making appeals to Democratic and independent voters who did not vote in the GOP primary in the first round.

That is legal in Mississippi, as long as those voters didn’t already vote in the Democratic primary.

The results of the second round of voting showed how well that strategy worked. About 67,000 more people voted in the runoff than in the primary, and in Hinds County — which includes the predominantly black city of Jackson — Cochran’s margin of victory was 11,000 votes, nearly double what it was in the first round.

Cochran is one of five sitting Southern GOP senators targeted for defeat by outside conservative groups. So far, incumbents have survived primaries in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina  and Mississippi, with one contest still to come in August in Tennessee.

Cochran’s victory is bad news for Democrats, who were rooting for a McDaniel victory to have an outside shot at capturing a Senate seat in deeply Republican Mississippi.

Childers was elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi in 2008 but lost his seat in the Republican wave of 2010. He got into the race when it appreared Cochran might lose, which could have given Democrats an opening against a more conservative candidate running statewide for the first time.

In the closing days of the race, Cochran and his allies told voters that nominating McDaniel, an outspoken radio talk show host, was too risky.

The GOP Senate primary in Oklahoma came down to a battle between two of the party’s fastest rising stars.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

Lankford, 45, represents much of metro Oklahoma City in the House, 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.

That insider resume drew fire from some Tea Party and conservative groups who rallied around Shannon, 35, from Lawton, an African-American who is 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.

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, 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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