OKLAHOMA CITY — U.S. Rep. James Lankford brushed off a tea party challenge and captured the Republican nomination outright in the race for Oklahoma's open U.S. Senate seat, a victory that highlights a stunning rise to power for a 46-year-old who was a church camp director and political unknown just four years ago.
In a solidly Republican state, Lankford's victory Tuesday over former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon and five other GOP challengers all but assures he will become Oklahoma's next U.S. senator. He will face an independent and the winner of a Democratic primary runoff in the general election, but the state hasn't elected a Democrat to an open U.S. Senate seat since 1978.
In the race for Oklahoma's other U.S. Senate seat, incumbent Republican Jim Inhofe easily dispatched four lesser-known GOP challengers to win the nomination. He will face Democrat Matt Silverstein of Bixby and three independents in November as he seeks a fourth term in office.
Shannon, a member of the powerful Chickasaw Nation and the state's first black House speaker, enjoyed high-profile endorsements from conservative groups in Washington and tea party favorites, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
But Shannon's attempts to paint Lankford as a Washington insider and criticize him for votes to increase the nation's debt ceiling as part of a broad budget agreement didn't gain much traction with the Oklahoma electorate.
"I've been in Congress a whopping three years," Lankford told The Associated Press in a telephone interview shortly after his victory Tuesday night. "So this idea that I'm a Washington insider just didn't sell."
Many voters in Tuesday's election cited the negative ads against Lankford as just another reason they supported him.