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Three Candidates Seek to Fill Coburn's Seat

James Lankford (left) and Connie Johnson (right)

For the first time since statehood, voters are picking both of the US Senate seats to represent Oklahoma in Washington, DC.

We already knew incumbent Jim Inhofe was going to seek reelection, but things got exciting a year ago when Tom Coburn decided to retire with two years left on his term.

KOSU’s Michael Cross reports this opened a seat, many didn’t expect until 2016.

When Dr. Coburn announced plans to step down from his Senate position, the race to fill it began.

By April, seven Republicans, three Democrats and an Independent filed to run.

In the end, Congressman James Lankford won the GOP nomination in June without having a runoff in August.

This gave him a chance during the summer to visit four Central American countries where the bulk of illegal immigrants originate.

At his Oklahoma City office next to the train tracks, Lankford says Congress needs to take a reasoned approach to the immigration issue.

“Just building a fence will not solve the immigration issues we face, and we do have to solve these immigration issues. So, to me it’s lean in, let’s go get the information, let’s get the facts on the ground. Conservatives should never be afraid of the facts.”

As he’s traveled the state, Lankford says he hears from many Oklahomans who are upset with the Obama administration in health care and regulation of businesses.

The Republican Party has controlled this seat since Henry Bellmon was elected to it in 1969, but Lankford says it’s not an automatic win for the GOP.

Lankford says when he started in politics; he read Bellmon’s biography to prepare for a Congressional run in 2010.

“So it’s interesting now to be, and something I never would have expected to be in that’s the race for his old seat, and now to be in that process for the Senate. But, no there’s no such thing as a gimme race anymore in politics. Eric Cantor and lots of other folks around the country can tell you there’s no such thing as a gimme.”

While the major parties duked it out in the primary, Independent candidate Mark Beard could watch and wait to see who would be his opponent.

Like Lankford, Beard believes Congress needs to balance the budget.

But, the Oklahoma City contractor says lawmakers like Lankford have failed to get it done which has increased the price of food and fuel while decreasing the value of the dollar.

“American people feel this. They see it every day. Anybody that is on a fixed income or retired why they would vote for anybody that’s been up there it just blows me away why they would do that. They just stole from them.”

Beard says he threw his hat in the ring to be a voice for the growing number of independent voters.

He wants to follow in Dr. Coburn’s shoes of weeding out government overspending and earmarks.

He worries about what happens if Lankford gets elected with the power of GOP incumbency and what he calls the political machine in Oklahoma.

“You have to go in there and say ‘I’m a new voice. This is what I’m going to do. It’s a two year term. You can get rid of me, but if you don’t the machine is going to go in the Republican side, and this things going to go for a long time’. We’re going to have another 20 years Senator.”

On the Democratic side, State Senator Connie Johnson won her party’s nomination in a runoff, August 29.

She’s hoping to be the first woman and person of color elected to the Senate from Oklahoma.

Even though she’s been serving in the State Senate since 2005 she feels she’s the fresh face needed compared to Lankford who spent the past four years in Congress where nothing has been done.

“At a time when it’s essential that we break this gridlock, this country can’t continue to be marred and held down by inability of policy makers to figure it out.”

Senator Johnson says she wants to focus on issues such as funding public education, reducing mandatory testing, reforming criminal justice and immigration, decriminalizing marijuana and increasing the minimum wage.

While most believe the Republicans can easily keep the seat, she’s keeping a positive attitude believing she can still be the winner in November.

“You trust God. You get up every day doing your part, and wonderful small miracles happen every day that encourage me, empower me, that keep me motivated, that make me feel good.”

Whoever wins will have to turn around to seek reelection again in just two years.

The general election is November 4, with early voting starting October 30.

Michael Cross is the host of KOSU's Morning Edition.
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