Oklahoma in Flux

A new poll commissioned for a 527 organization supporting former Oklahoma House Speaker T. W. Shannon (R) shows him overtaking Rep. James Lankford (R-OK-5) in the state’s open Republican Senate campaign. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) is resigning at the end of this year, thus adding another senatorial election to the 2014 political calendar. The winner will be eligible to stand for a full six-year term in 2016.

The Oklahomans for a Conservative Future organization’s poll (Public Opinion Strategies, April 21-22; 500 likely Oklahoma Republican primary voters) gives Shannon a 10-point, 42-32 percent lead over Rep. Lankford, representing an incredible swing of 45 points since the first POS poll was taken in February (Lankford then leading Shannon, 51-16 percent).

The survey was fielded after OCF spent $400,000 in media and mail promoting Shannon and depicting Lankford as not being conservative enough for the Oklahoma Republican electorate. As House Republican Policy chairman, the congressman is part of the GOP leadership, a group held in generally low esteem by the party’s most conservative base segment.

Though POS is an accomplished and reliable pollster, this study’s questionnaire was not released leaving us to guess whether push or probing questions were asked to increase support for Shannon. A 45-point swing between ballot tests at this point in time is such a huge number that the possibility of push questions being used to “educate” the respondents certainly must be considered as a plausible explanation for the turning tide.

More evidence points in that direction when we see that the strong Lankford favorability ratio, 53:5 percent positive to negative, remains equivalent to his standing when he was enjoying a substantial early lead. It will take additional survey research to prove that the race has swung this much. While Shannon is a strong candidate, and can draw financial and grassroots support from the conservative base, more evidence must be presented to prove that the former state representative has in fact overtaken the Oklahoma City congressman in such a dramatic fashion over this short period of time.

The Lankford senatorial run leaves his Oklahoma City-anchored, OK-5 House district open. Democrats have little chance of converting this seat, so all of the action will be in the GOP primary and run-off contests. With six candidates in the Republican contest, advancing to a secondary election because no one obtains an outright majority is a virtual certainty.

Two internal polls, conducted almost simultaneously, have already drifted into the public realm and the pair reveal similar results. Though support levels are below 20 percent for all candidates, the Tarrance Group poll for state Sen. Clark Jolley’s campaign (March 23-25; 400 likely OK-5 Republican primary voters) and state Rep. Mike Turner’s Wilson Perkins Allen survey (March 26-27; 401 likely OK-5 Republican primary voters) both find a clear delineation at the top of the candidate field.

Each poll projects Sen. Jolley to be holding a small, but discernible, advantage over Rep. Turner. The remainder of the field lags behind, with former state Sen. Steve Russell, ex-state Rep. Shane Jett and Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas all jockeying for, and trading, positions while lagging behind the two leaders.

Douglas, so far, has raised the most money in the race ($404,537), not counting candidate contributions, but has yet to translate this asset into enough voter support to propel her into one of the top positions.

Both Jolley and Turner have the opportunity to solidify themselves as the run-off participants before the June 24 primary. Should they advance, the real test will come in the Aug. 26 run-off election that will realistically decide Lankford’s successor.

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