Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) leads the pack of Oklahoma Republicans vying for the retiring Sen. Tom Coburn's (R) seat, according to a new poll.
The survey from GOP firm Harper Polling gives Lankford 54 percent support among GOP primary voters, while Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon takes 18 percent support and paramedic James Weger takes just 1 percent. Twenty-seven percent are undecided.
The survey shows that if former Rep. J.C. Watts were to enter the race, he’d emerge as the favorite, taking 40 percent of the vote to Lankford's 37 percent.
Watts, however, is unlikely to run with Shannon in the race, as he’s a longtime friend and mentor to the younger Republican. Watts could endorse and campaign for Shannon, something that could boost the latter's name recognition.
Low name recognition is part of the reason Shannon's drawing less than 18 percent support — a third of voters say they’ve never heard of him, and another 22 percent say they’ve heard of him but have no opinion about him.
Thirty-three percent view Shannon positively, while 12 percent view him negatively. Lankford is much better known and is seen favorably by 56 percent of respondents. Only 8 percent view him negatively.
If national conservative groups jump in the race, they could work to hurt Lankford's favorability ratings. Conservative groups expressed opposition to Lankford’s candidacy even before he launched his bid, but they haven’t found their candidate after Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) opted out of the race.
The Harper poll shows the Tea Party and Tea Party tactics like the recent government shutdown are popular in Oklahoma; a candidate who could take advantage of that sentiment stands to benefit, if Lankford is seen as too establishment. Shannon is already trying to harness that conservative energy, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be successful.
The survey was conducted among 627 likely 2014 primary voters from Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.