Less than four years after he came out of nowhere to win a U.S. House race that few gave him any chance at, Rep. James Lankford on Tuesday night handily won the Republican nomination for U.S. senator from Oklahoma.
With near final results in, Lankford had rolled up an unexpected 56 percent of the vote over four opponents. Runner-up and state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who was seeking to become the third black U.S. senator, ran below most poll results with 35 percent of the vote.
State and national conservatives were split between Lankford and Shannon, both stalwart conservatives who disagreed on little. Mike Huckabee and many cultural conservatives lined up behind Lankford, 46, a born-again Christian who headed a popular camp for Christian youth.
Although Lankford sported a strong conservative record, many "tea partiers" never forgave him for voting to lift the debt ceiling earlier this year, and rallied to Shannon. Among the national "tea party" heroes in Shannon's camp were Sarah Palin, Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Lankford, chairman of the House GOP Policy Committee is "a yes-man for House leadership, and he will be a yes-man for Senate leadership," declared a memo from the conservative Madison Project.
But, working for Lankford this year was the same credential that propelled the then- first-time office seeker to a spectacular upset win over several seasoned office holders vying for Oklahoma's 5th District House seat in 2010.
As director of the Falls Creek Camp for young Christians for 14 years, Lankford has close contacts and friendships with a powerful community. The 96-year-old camp, a project of the Baptist General Convention, has had more than 5,000 Christians per week go through its training, which includes teaching Christian principles as well as hiking and swimming. In 2009, the year before Lankford ran for Congress, Falls Creek hosted 27,000 campers.
As he did in his House race four years ago, Lankford had an eager infantry of volunteer workers from the Falls Creek alumni.
He is now considered a sure thing in November to fill the remaining two years of the term of fellow Republican Tom Coburn, who announced his resignation from the Senate for health reasons.
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