A funny thing happened on the way to OK’s Republican U.S. Senate primary


By Patrick B.McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog

OKLAHOMA CITY — What do Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz have in common?

TEA PARTY REBELLION? It’s only natural that former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, hopes the defeat of Eric Cantor in Virginia is a hint that he is on track to get the Republican nomination over another U.S. House leader, James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. But in-state Tea Partiers are upset at some national leaders for saying Shannon is the best choice.

Both are from that ardent multi-issue, grassroots, conservative flank of the Republican Party widely branded “the tea party.”

Funny thing is, both Palin and Cruz have upset a large cluster of Oklahoma tea party leaders by endorsing for U.S. Senate former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

The front runners in the race are U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and Shannon, both popular among the mainstream Republican rank-and-file.

Shannon said last week he hopes the defeat of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican primary will give him a boost. Local tea party leaders and conservative activists have angrily objected to outsiders anointing Shannon, said Michael Bates, one of Oklahoma’s leading conservative political bloggers.

Those outsiders didn’t bother to talk to locals who know these candidates best, Bates wrote last Monday on his “BatesLine” blog. For his part, Bates is backing former state Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, who is running a distant third in the primary race.

Indeed, the tea party rumblings began early in the campaign, but gained wider circulation this week. On Thursday, 38 grassroots leaders and activists issued a joint statement reinforcing their “opposition to the outside endorsements of T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate.”

“We owe it to our members and fellow conservative citizens to set the record straight that we do not endorse or support T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate,” the joint statement, “An Open Letter to the DC Tea Party Establishment,” read.

The leaders said the Senate Conservatives Fund, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and others were “at odds with many of the Tea Party and Grassroots Liberty organizations in Oklahoma.”

The group contends Shannon, who said one of his top priorities as speaker was to repeal Common Core,” was nowhere to be found during the discussion and passage of the repeal, House Bill 3399.

Shannon voted for repeal on the last day of the 2014 legislative session and signed on as a co-author, but tea party leaders said he “actually he did nothing to help move the bill through the process, nor did he debate for the passage of H.B. 3399.”

The tea partyers went on, criticizing Shannon for voting to increase driver’s license fees, boost state spending, supporting “corporate tax subsidies” and passing the largest state government budget in Oklahoma history.

And then there’s Sen. Tom Coburn, the man the candidates want to replace and the politician whose support every Republican candidate in Oklahoma, including Lankford and Shannon, covets. The architect of the state Republican Party’s historic capture of every statewide elective office in 2010 is officially neutral.

Coburn called Lankford “a man of great character” when he assailed the anonymous spending on negative ads in the race. Days after anti-Shannon independent ads appeared this month, Coburn criticized those, too.

Negative ads contribute to “the great tension in our country today,” Coburn said. “Voters no longer trust their elected officials to do the right thing.”

Lankford has led in most polls throughout the campaign. Pro-Shannon independent television advertisements appeared to close the gap a few weeks ago, but Lankford has sustained a narrow margin the last few weeks.

Brogdon and the remaining hopefuls have polled 10 percent or less in all. In the final Tulsa World “Sooner Poll” their support was falling.

Lankford had a 41-38 percent edge over Shanon, with 16 percent still undecided. Pollsters put their margin of error at 4.81 percent.

The divisions among conservatives are not Shannon’s only problems. Before his tea party woes intensified this week, there was the May 13 arrest of longtime Shannon ally Chad Alexander. The former state Republican Party chairman was at the time chairman of Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, one of Shannon’s independent expenditure groups. Oklahomans has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads attacking Lankford.

Alexander immediately took a leave of absence from all political and lobbying positions. However, this week Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, a Democrat, confirmed he had begun an investigation of two campaigns, including Shannon’s, for alleged collusion between candidates and anonymous donor groups.

Shannon’s campaign spokesman Friday told Oklahoma Watchdog the race is a dead heat. The Lankford camp insists their man has the lead. Both are hopeful they can win with enough support to avoid a runoff.

Both candidates are claiming tea party support. Given their conservative credentials, it isn’t safe to assume tea party leaders would retain their allegiances should a runoff be needed.

“Even if Shannon or Lankford won the primary outright,” Bates wrote last week, it would hardly be a tragedy for conservatives.”

Whether the state’s tea party leaders will hold any grudge against Palin or Cruz after next Tuesday, time will tell.

NOTE: You may contact Pat at pmcguigan@watchdog.org .