James Lankford hopeful as GOP runoff nears
By Patrick B. McGuigan
After securing a narrow edge in a seven-candidate field, James Lankford is anticipating the August 24 Republican runoff for the Fifth Congressional District nomination with great hope.
Lankford had 18,760 votes (33.58%) in the July 27 primary, to former state Rep. Kevin Calvey’s 18,147 (32.48%). Late in the campaign, pundits and pollsters had widely predicted the political newcomer would force a runoff with Calvey, but no one predicted he would be the top vote-getter in the first found.
Soon after the primary, state Rep. Mike Thompson, who ran third in the primary with 10,008 (17.91%), issued a strong endorsement of Lankford. Then, early this month, state Rep. Shane Jett,who ran fourth in the contest (5,956, or 10.66%) , also rendered his support.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK on Friday (August 13), Lankford said, “It meant a lot to me to get the support of both men, especially because both of them have actually served with Kevin. Their support for me was a real encouragement for me as the runoff approaches.”
He commented, “I still hear from people that they have no idea who I am, so I’m telling them.”
One means for communication, and perhaps the “secret” to his impressive showing in the first round, was deft use of social media. Through Twitter, Facebook and other communications in cyberspace, Lankford says he is “having a continuing conversation, online, with thousands of people.” He said the power of an endorsement, online, from individuals a person knows and trusts are influential, particularly among young and otherwise disengaged voters.”
Lankford said post-primary meetings with new supporters and some business leaders have been “fascinating. Some thought I was all about the social issues. I’ve made it clear I am a social conservative, but also stressed that if we don’t fix the debt problem we won’t have a way to debate meaningfully any of the social issues. Congress is the forum for addressing the national economy, and that’s what I intend to do,” he said.
Lankford is sticking with the “debt, debt, debt” theme that served him so well in the primary campaign. As past director of the Falls Creek camp, where thousands of Oklahoma’s Southern Baptists and others spent memorable time in their teen years, Lankford was expected to stress social and moral issues in his seemingly longshot congressional run.
But instead, his laser-like focus on the national economy, and the burgeoning federal budget deficit, came to define his race, and likely will continue to do so. Anticipating the opportunity to address some of the challenging spending questions he has emphasized, Lankford reflected, bluntly, “It’s not the job of Republicans to save the Obama presidency.”
He explained that Republicans should take a more critical posture than in 1995, after Democratic President Bill Clinton endured major congressional losses and the GOP gained control of the U.S House. The subsequent “triangulation” on spending and other issues, some analysts believe, saved the Clinton presidency and allowed him to gain a strong reelection in 1996.
Lankford said Republicans will have to “deliver” if they are in control, but must be politically cautious in their approach to defunding the federal health care law and other Obama administration programs. “It will be essential to communicate with citizens every step of the way, and to be clear what it is we’re trying to accomplish,” Lankford says.
He predicted “intense media focus” at every step of the 2011-12 budget process. He said, “If our country does not deal with debt and the economy, nothing else is going to matter.”
Republican primary turnout in the Fifth District surged from 48,000 voters in 2006 to 56,000 in 2010. Some number smaller than that is expected for the runoff.
For the final push, Lankford intends to push “getting to know you” themes in his advertising, and continued emphasis on his economic conservatism.