Oklahoma Senate race goes negative

A group backing former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon for Senate is airing the first negative ads in the race, hammering Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) for voting to raise the debt limit.

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The Oklahoman is reporting that Oklahomans for a Conservative Future has launched ads charging Lankford voted “with liberals” to raise the debt ceiling twice and that he backed “the Obama budget.”

The former refers to Lankford’s votes for the Budget Control Act and a 2013 short-term suspension of the limit; the “Obama budget” is a reference to the bipartisan budget brokered last year by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) which, a representative for the group said, Obama supported.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the group is spending $237,000 on the buy. Its backers, however, are unclear — one of the group’s advisers was arrested on a drug charge last month, and The Oklahoman could not reach another.

All three candidates in the GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) hope to pick up the conservative mantle he’s leaving behind.

Most surveys have shown a tight race, though Lankford recently released an internal poll that had him up 10 points over Shannon but failing to reach the 50-point threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Lankford is one of the House’s most conservative members, but when he entered the race for Senate in Oklahoma he immediately drew backlash from conservative groups, who are wary of him in part because of his leadership position. 

Shannon has begun to position himself as the conservative alternative to Lankford, and picked up a handful of national conservative endorsements.

And the new ad looks to boost that narrative building around him. Lankford, however, said he believes Republicans will be turned off by the attacks.

“As Oklahomans get to know us more and more, and learn about our solutions to the problems we face as a nation, our poll numbers continue to climb,” he said. “Now the barrage of negative attacks come late in the campaign to distort the record and try to confuse voters. Republicans do not like distorted negative attacks on other Republicans.”

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