Susan Walsh/AP

Deficit Hawk's Potential Replacements Jockey for His Mantle

Both Republican candidates seeking to replace Sen. Tom Coburn are laying claim to his legacy.

While conservatives in some states are trying to boot incumbent Republicans from office this year, folks in Oklahoma are looking for more of what they already have.

Sen. Tom Coburn's surprise retirement has left the two main Republicans vying for his seat scrambling to define themselves before the June 24 primary. To do so, both sides are leaning on comparisons to the man they seek to succeed.

"What this race is coming down to is a question of, 'What would Coburn do?' " Republican pollster Bill Shapard said of the contest between Rep. James Lankford and former state House speaker T.W. Shannon. Shapard, who's in the midst of conducting new polling on the race, said GOP respondents have shown enormous respect for Coburn—as well as a strong desire to maintain his legacy. Voters he spoke with overwhelmingly indicated it was important that their new senator "vote like Tom Coburn," the pollster said.

But just what it is Coburn would do is a tough question given the senator's occasional unpredictability. Both campaigns have laid claim to key elements of Coburn's philosophy.

Shannon's campaign points to their candidate's debt-reducing record in the state House as a mirror to Coburn's "Dr. No" reputation in the Senate.

"Coburn is a deficit hawk," Shannon spokesman Kenneth Bricker said. "T.W. helped balance the state budget here. His greatest achievements are turning away bond-indebted issues, welfare reform, workers-compensation reform, and several tax-cutting measures."

Bricker said Lankford's record of voting with party leadership on issues such as the Ryan/Murray budget deal was a sharp contrast to Coburn's.

For Lankford's part, his campaign can point to a statement Coburn put out condemning outside groups for backing Shannon in the race. In a letter that some saw as a pseudo-endorsement, Coburn lauded Lankford's dedication to federal oversight, saying he had come to know Lankford as a "man of absolute integrity" who has "fought an often lonely battle against the status quo."

Both sides politely responded to the letter, pointing out that "like Coburn," they had denounced negative ads when they first appeared. (Lankford also sent a second email "reaffirming" his opposition to negative ads—reminding voters about Coburn's flattering letter all the while.)

The reality of filling Coburn's shoes would be demanding for either candidate. Political watchers still remember former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's embrace of President Obama in 2009, which Republican opponents used to savage him in a Senate primary the next year, but the hug Coburn and Obama shared, and the friendship they touted, was never a political liability for the Oklahoman. Political experts in the state say no candidate in this race could pull off the nuanced role Coburn learned to play over his many years in the political arena.

"The reality is when Coburn talks philosophically about fiscal issues, he sounds like T.W. Shannon. When he acts, he looks like James Lankford," said University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie. "But Coburn has always been capable of getting a pass because he can come out and say, 'Well, practically speaking we have to do this stuff.' "

Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston said the state's reverence for Coburn is rooted in the senator's integrity.

"They respect his character first and foremost, in that they may not always agree with him but they can always understand where he's at and knows he has a good heart with good intentions," Weston said. "The biggest legacy that Sen. Coburn leaves is the number of individuals that he has inspired to run for office," he added.

Though the race is expected to go to an August primary runoff, Coburn's timely dip into the contest has many wondering just what he meant to accomplish, and whether he might do more to assist Lankford.

"He's very selective about what he does, but if he comes into a state Senate primary and drops a letter on someone's behalf, that's the end of the contest," Gaddie said. Gaddie noted that a statewide race was very different from the state Senate, but said the influence of a Coburn endorsement shouldn't be underestimated. "At the grassroots level it resonates," he said. "It becomes the basis for a flyer in the papers, on cars on Sunday at the churches. It's a huge signal for a lot of movement conservatives and evangelicals that this is their guy."

Shapard said voters he'd polled were already drawing connections from Coburn's letter, largely indicating they believed Lankford was the "most similar" candidate. Shapard said it's not a conclusion he shares personally. But it's one that could be critically important to the Oklahoma Senate race.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.