Palin and Huckabee Back Different Candidates in Oklahoma GOP Senate Primary

Palin and Huckabee Back Different Candidates in Oklahoma GOP Senate Primary

Another Tea Party versus Republican establishment battle is brewing in this June’s Oklahoma Republican U.S. Senate primary, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has come out on the other side of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

On Monday, Huckabee endorsed Congressman Jim Lankford (R-OK). In March, Palin endorsed Lankford’s rival, T.W. Shannon, former Speaker of the House in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

On Wednesday of last week Tea Party favorite Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) endorsed Shannon. Then on Friday, Dr. Ben Carson also endorsed Shannon. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which is backing a host of Tea Party challengers around the country, is also backing Shannon over Lankford.

Shannon, 36, who served as an aide to former Congressman J.C. Watts (R-OK), was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2006. In 2013 he became the youngest Speaker of the House in the state’s history. His campaign website claims he “has been coined by many ‘the most conservative Speaker in State History.’ “

Shannon resigned as Speaker in February when he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. During his one year as Speaker, Shannon pushed several conservative bills through the House that became law. One law requires recipients of payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to work at least 20 hours per week. Another generates cash for the state through the sale of unused assets and property.

Shannon’s opponent, Congressman Lankford, can also claim conservative credentials. He receives an 83% rating in the latest Heritage Action Scorecard, 1% better than retiring Senator Tom Coburn, generally considered one of the more conservative members of the Senate.

But Lankford’s conservative credentials falter in light of his 2013 Club for Growth scorecard, where his 70% rating ranks him as only the 120th most conservative member of Congress. Half of all Republicans in the House of Representatives are more conservative than he is, while half are less conservative.

Huckabee’s endorsement may attract social conservatives to Lankford, who, like Huckabee, spent his early career in Christian ministry.  But Shannon, who still teaches Sunday School at Bethlehem Baptist Church in his hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma, also has strong social conservative credentials, as do his high profile supporters, Sarah Palin, and Dr. Ben Carson.

Huckabee gave Lankford a strong personal endorsement, saying his “servant leadership . . . is a rarity in Washington.” But Huckabee’s statement offered little in the way of policy specifics to point out where Lankford has a comparative advantage over Shannon.

A recent poll, paid for by Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, a group that supports Shannon, taken in March one month after Palin’s endorsement shows that Lankford’s lead, which was 26 percent in February, has been cut to nine percent, 37 percent for Lankford and 28 percent for Shannon. Another candidate, Randy Brogdon, is in third place, at 7 percent.

The Tulsa World reported on Sunday one area in which the two candidates differ: the percentage of votes they’ve made in their respective current legislative sessions. According to the World, Shannon has missed 305 of 385 votes taken in the Oklahoma House of Representatives this session. Lankford has missed 12 of 141 votes roll call votes in Congress this session since he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate