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Oklahoma Independents Get a Chance to Vote in US Senate Race

Democrats and Republicans in Oklahoma won't be picking a candidate for U.S. Senate in next week's statewide primary election, but all of the state's 266,000 registered independents will have a chance to vote.

Oklahoma's U.S. Sen. James Lankford, the incumbent Republican who slugged his way through a seven-man GOP primary for the open Senate seat two years ago, didn't draw a single Republican challenger this year.

"It was a blessing for me, because obviously two years ago the race was very intense," Lankford said in a telephone interview from Washington. "I'm still traveling around the state. I'm still out with people ... but I'm not having to focus as much on the campaign, and I can actually focus on the reason people elected me, so that's a nice gift to have."

Two Democrats filed for the seat, but one of them withdrew, leaving Mike Workman of Tulsa as the Democratic nominee.

But Oklahoma's newest official political party - the Libertarian Party - will have two candidates vying for the seat in Oklahoma's statewide primary election on June 28, and registered independents are invited to participate. Dax Ewbank, a 40-year-old information technology professional from Guthrie, and 67-year-old Norman retiree Robert Murphy, are both running as registered Libertarians.

Even more unusual than two Libertarians on the statewide ballot, Murphy is urging voters to support Ewbank, his opponent.

"I've been assigned the task to be a co-chair of the (2016 Libertarian Party presidential nominee) Gary Johnson campaign in Oklahoma," Murphy said, "and I want Dax to win this primary so I can concentrate on getting Gary Johnson 2.5 percent so we can stay on the ballot in Oklahoma."

Ewbank said Libertarians encouraged party activists to run for office this cycle in part to spread their political message of social tolerance and a limited federal government.

"The challenging part for us as a party is reaching out to those independents, because there's not really a lot of infrastructure available to reach out to independent voters," Ewbank said. "Other parties have their phone lists and all that kind of stuff. It's a little more difficult to get a message out to independent voters."

Jeremy Davis, a registered independent from Norman, said he's so used to not voting in primaries that he didn't know he could vote in next week's election.

"I didn't know Libertarians had their own primary," said Davis, a 30-year-old hotel worker and lifelong independent who was able to cast a ballot in the March 1 Democratic primary after the Oklahoma Democratic Party decided to open its primary to independents last year.

As an independent who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Davis said he's interested in learning more about the Libertarian Party.

"I can tell you now I will most likely vote Libertarian in the general election, because I can't in good conscience vote for (Donald) Trump or Hillary (Clinton)," Davis said.

The winner of the Ewbank-Murphy Libertarian primary will be on the ballot in November, along with Lankford, Workman and two independents - Sean Braddy, 44, of Norman, and Mark Beard, 56, a construction company owner from Oklahoma City.

All of them are seeking a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate. Lankford, a former two-term congressman, won the seat in a special election two years ago when Sen. Tom Coburn stepped down.

Lankford said not having a primary opponent has allowed him more time to delve into issues, particularly overseeing the rules of federal agencies as the chairman of a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

"That consumes a tremendous amount of time," Lankford said. "Then my work on Homeland Security and Intelligence (committees). Obviously what's going on with ISIS and what's going on in the United States with what we face with lone wolf threats, it takes up a lot of time just to focus on ideas and oversight."

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