OKLAHOMA CITY — James Lankford, the Congressman from Oklahoma City who once helped run the largest Christian youth camp in the nation, opened a news conference Monday with a quote from scripture, then announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate.
“The Senate is losing a giant at the end of this year when Dr. Tom Coburn retires early,” Lankford said, reading from a prepared release at the Oklahoma History Center.
Lankford’s announcement came as no surprise. Speculation since Coburn’s confirmation that he will step down early identified Lankford as a possible candidate for the open seat.
For the last two months, Coburn had been sending clear signals that he would retire before his term ends, Lankford said. During the Christmas holiday, Lankford said he prayerfully discussed the decision to run with his wife, Cindy Lankford, and two daughters, Hannah and Jordan.
“It’s a tremendous sacrifice,” Lankford said.
With a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary and a long association with the Southern Baptist Convention, Lankford has made no secret that his faith and religious principals shape his style of governance.
Lankford was elected to Congress in 2010 to serve the 5th District with no previous background in politics. He serves on the House Committees on Budget and Oversight and Government reform. He is the chair of the subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements.
Lankford vowed to continue work on reducing the nation’s deficit.
“I do not fly away from my family every week to do nothing,” he said. “Dealing with the deficit is the single largest thing we have to do.”
Since he has been in office, Lankford said the nation’s debt has been reduced from $1.4 trillion three years ago to $680 billion this year.
“We’re chipping away at that — we still have a long way to go,” he said, stressing that the deficit is a problem that can’t be solved in a single year.
Lankford said he received encouragement from church members and other supporters to run for the Senate seat.
“My commitment has been to find a way to bring conservative solutions to the problems we face,” he said. “It is not enough to just complain; we must find a way to address the problems and solve them.”
Lankford called leadership in Washington, D.C., arrogant in trying to treat every state the same. He said Oklahoma is capable of finding solutions for many of its problems.
“Our state is not an implementor — our state is a decision-maker,” he said.
Asked whether he would continue Coburn’s legacy of identifying government waste, Lankford said eliminating waste is the job of every lawmaker.
“I hope everyone in the Senate and House wants to champion that,” he said.
The primary election is slated for June 24, and more candidates are expected to emerge.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, has said he will not run for the seat.
“Since Sen. Tom Coburn announced last week that he will retire before the end of his second term, there has been a great deal of speculation about which Republicans might run for the seat,” Cole said. “After considerable thought, however, I have decided not to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.”
While Cole said he was flattered to be considered, he believes he can do the most good for Oklahoma in his present situation.
“My seniority, my membership on three major committees, my position as a subcommittee chairman on the Appropriations Committee and my role as a deputy whip in the Republican Conference make me much more valuable to Oklahoma and the Fourth District in the House than I could be as a freshman U.S. senator,” Cole said.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt also announced that he will not run for the position.
“As I have pondered whether to seek the Republican nomination to replace Dr. Coburn in the U.S. Senate, the pressure has been to take advantage of the ‘political opportunity’ that is before me,” Pruitt said in a release issued Sunday.
Pruitt said that serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general has provided him an opportunity to hold Washington accountable.
“At present, my choice is clear — it is serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, where I can continue to lead the fight for the preservation of our freedoms and constitutional system,” Pruitt said.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb also declined to run.
“My focus has been, and will remain, working for real solutions in real time for Oklahomans,” Lamb posted on his Facebook page. “Being in Oklahoma, not Washington, D.C., is the best place for me to help accomplish these goals. It is without hesitation that I say I am not a candidate for either the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House.”
Possible candidates for the Senate seat include U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, and Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton.
“No one can replace Tom Coburn, but someone will succeed him,” Shannon said. “I am praying with my family about whether to enter the race to do just that, and I know the Lord will clearly place on my heart what my assignment is.”
No Democrats have emerged as potential candidates.
Coburn’s resignation means there will be two U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in Oklahoma this year as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe seeks re-election in the regular election cycle.
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