A recent poll shows Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford with a sizable lead in the primary to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, but involvement by national conservative groups could alter his standing, The Hill reports.
Lankford, a Republican, quickly declared his intention to replace Coburn in a November special election. Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon announced last week that he too would run, along with Jason Weger, a paramedic.
A Harper Polling survey shows Lankford leading his competitors by a 36-percentage-point margin. He is especially popular in Oklahoma City, where he enjoys a 77 percent-to-9 percent lead over Shannon.
But in Tulsa, Shannon trails Lankford by just 3 points.
Lankford, a youth camp director before entering politics in 2010, garners slightly more support from tea party voters — 55 percent — than from more traditional members of the GOP, at 48 percent support.
But according to The Hill, Lankford has already drawn opposition from national conservative groups who attacked him even before his announcement because of his votes to increase the debt limit, raise taxes, and fund Obamacare.
Groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth are looking for a Lankford alternative in the primary, notes The Washington Post.
"We have reviewed his record, and it's clear that conservatives cannot count on him to fight for their principles," said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund.
But Lankford told The Hill he stands by his record.
"The different Washington, D.C.-based groups and the different special-interest groups, they all want to be able to pick who they want to be a senator," he said. "They don’t speak for everyone, and they definitely don't speak for Oklahomans."
A candidate who sympathizes with tea party initiatives stands to overtake Lankford if Lankford can be typecast as "too establishment," according to The Hill. Shannon — a protégé of popular former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts — plans to make that effort.
If Watts endorses Shannon, that could also benefit Shannon's campaign, which is suffering from a lack of name recognition.
Coburn, 65, is battling prostate cancer. He cited his declining health as the reason he is retiring at the end of the year.