Lankford to run for Coburn's Senate seat

Just days after Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) announcement that he’ll retire at the end of the year, the race to replace him began to settle with Rep. James Lankford (R) expected to announce his decision to run at a Monday-afternoon press conference, sources tell The Hill.

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Rep. Tom Cole (R) announced in a Sunday-night press release that he will not run, citing his seniority in the House. The state’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt (R), also announced in a Sunday Facebook post he won’t run.

The decisions of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R) and Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon still remain unclear. Sources tell The Hill Bridenstine may be leaning against a run after receiving some discouragement from local conservatives, while Shannon is now “strongly considering” the race.

The Hill reported on Friday that Lankford had been calling colleagues as early as Thursday night, when Coburn announced his plans to retire at the end of the year, to gauge their support. One source indicated Coburn plans to endorse Lankford for his seat, a development that would catapult him to the front of the primary pack and provide him with some credibility with skeptical conservatives in the special election to replace him.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office announced Friday that a special will be scheduled to run concurrently with this year's regularly scheduled elections, setting up an April filing deadline and a primary fight for June with an August runoff if necessary. 

The Oklahoman first reported Lankford’s decision on Sunday night.

Cole said in a statement he felt he could do more good for his state in the House than the Senate, where seniority typically reigns supreme.

“My seniority, my membership on three major committees, my position as a subcommittee chairman on the Appropriations Committee and my role as a Deputy Whip in the Republican Conference make me much more valuable to Oklahoma and the Fourth District in the House than I could be as a freshman U.S. Senator,” he said.

He also said that he’s looking forward to “helping nominate and elect another well-qualified conservative” in the race.

Pruitt said on Facebook that he’s planning to remain attorney general because he feels he can do more good in the state.

“At present, my choice is clear: it is serving as Oklahoma's Attorney General, where I can continue to lead the fight for the preservation of our freedoms and constitutional system,” he said.

One source tells The Hill that Shannon may be moving closer to running after receiving a “tremendous amount” of encouragement from local and national conservative groups over the past few days.

If he chooses to run, he would likely compete for the position as the conservative alternative to Lankford in the race, and would easily take up that mantle if Bridenstine chose not to run.

Shannon has strong ties to the state’s Baptist community, which could eat into one of Lankford’s advantages, and would draw support from Oklahoma’s Native American population, as he is part Chickasaw.

As a onetime aide to former Rep. J.C. Watts, Shannon could count on Watts’s starpower and fundraising support if he chooses to run and Watts — who is also considering the race — stayed out.

The state House speaker's bid would put Cole in a tough spot. Shannon worked as a staffer to the congressman, but Cole also has a close relationship with Lankford, who has looked to him as a mentor of sorts since coming to Washington.

Cole, with his deep connections throughout Oklahoma and the considerable local and national fundraising base he cultivated during his time as National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, would give either candidate a significant boost with his endorsement.

--This post was updated at 9:43 p.m.

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