Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford announced his candidacy Monday for the U.S. Senate seat left open by Sen. Tom Coburn who said last week he would resign the post at the end of this congressional session.
Lankford told The Associated Press he wanted to press for “conservative solutions that most Americans believe in.”
“We’re facing serious issues,” Lankford said. “We can either complain about it or try to step in and solve it.”
A longtime director of one of the nation’s largest Christian youth summer camps, Lankford was a political unknown when he emerged from a crowded Republican primary field in 2010 to win the U.S. House seat. He won re-election in 2012 and was the only member of Oklahoma’s House delegation to not face a GOP primary opponent that year.
Lankford also has risen quickly among the GOP leadership in the House, and is currently the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. He also landed a spot on the House budget committee.
The decision by Coburn, who is battling a recurrence of cancer, to resign the seat two years early has turned a somewhat predictable election year in Oklahoma on its head. The special election will coincide with the regular election cycle in 2014, meaning there will be two U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in Oklahoma as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe seeks re-election.
It’s the first time since 2004 that Oklahoma has had an open Senate seat, and Republicans will be heavily favored to maintain it. Oklahoma has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since David Boren in 1978. Among Democrats expected to consider the race are former Gov. Brad Henry and former Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
Other Republicans considering running for the open Senate seat are U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa and state House Speaker T.W. Shannon of Lawton.
Lankford has the advantage of a hefty campaign account. He reported having more than $450,000 in cash on hand at the end of September, the most recent report available, and that money can be used for a Senate campaign.
On Sunday, Attorney General Scott Pruitt and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., both said they would not run for Coburn’s seat. Gov. Mary Fallin also has said she won’t run for the seat.
The timing of the special election means most officeholders who run for the seat, including Lankford, will have to resign their current posts. His announcement is expected to trigger another wave of candidates seeking to replace him in the 5th District. Republicans considering a race for Lankford’s seat include Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, state Sen. Clark Jolley, former state Sen. Steve Russell, and state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft.
Retired University of Central Oklahoma professor Tom Guild, who ran unsuccessfully for the post in 2010 and 2012, already has announced his plans to run again for the 5th District in 2014.
Sean Murphy can be reached on Twittwe @apseanmurphy