Republican U.S. Sen. James Lankford would seem to have all the conservative credentials he’d need to coast to reelection in deep-red Oklahoma.
A devout Baptist, Lankford was the director of the nation’s largest Christian youth camp for more than a decade. He speaks out regularly against abortion and what he describes as excessive government spending. And his voting record in the Senate aligned with former President Donald Trump’s position nearly 90% of the time.
But like several other seemingly safe GOP incumbents, Lankford, who didn’t even draw a primary opponent in 2016, finds himself under fierce attack by a challenger in his own party. The antagonist is a 29-year-old evangelical minister and political newcomer who managed to draw more than 2,000 people to a “Freedom Rally” headlined by Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, at which Lankford was accused of being not conservative enough.
“When James (Lankford) certified the big lie, he joined the big lie,” Jackson Lahmeyer told the raucous crowd in Norman, citing Lankford’s failure to endorse Trump’s false claims about the election outcome. “The 2020 presidential election — that was a stolen election and we will never, ever allow it to happen again.” The state’s GOP chairman, John Bennett, has already endorsed Lahmeyer in the race.
Similar scenes are playing out in other red states where ultra right-wing challengers are tapping into anger among Republicans over Trump’s election loss and coronavirus-related lockdowns.