Politico: Lankford's 'Unfathomable primary win'
A slate of prominent conservative groups—including the Club for Growth, Concerned Women for America, the American Conservative Union, and the Gun Owners of America—endorsed and provided financial backing for Calvey in his bid for the Oklahoma City-area open seat, only to wake up Wednesday to find that the former state legislator finished behind Lankford, a little-known political newcomer waging his first campaign for office.
“I think the question is, ‘Who is James Lankford?’” remarked one Washington-based GOP operative who is supporting Calvey. “I didn’t know Lankford’s name until four weeks ago.”
Lankford, who ran the Christian Falls Creek summer camp and carried the backing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), heads toward an Aug. 24 runoff with Calvey after finishing first with 34 percent in the five-way (sic) primary. Calvey, who served in the state House from 1998 to 2006, followed in second with 33 percent.
GOP strategists reviewing the primary results suggested a host of explanations for Lankford’s success. Though he spent a relatively modest $284,000 – about half of what the better-funded Calvey invested – he ran an aggressive, grassroots-oriented effort that mobilized the local Christian community.
Some argued Lankford benefitted from his lack of political experience, which enabled him to brand himself as an outsider in a year of intense anti-Washington resentment.
In the final days leading up to the race, Lankford ran a TV ad in which he proclaimed, “All of us that are outside of politics understand: We will never change the status quo in Washington if we send the status quo to Washington.”
That message distinguished Lankford from Calvey and from third-place finisher state Rep. Mike Thompson, both of whom fashioned themselves as conservatives who would oppose the Democratic agenda in Washington.
“Given the guy’s background, it’s quite possible that he brought in a lot of people who aren’t used to voting in primaries,” speculated the operative.
Still, Calvey’s second-place showing has left some Republicans wondering where his campaign went wrong.
“What the heck happened? He had all the advantages,” asked the first operative. “It’s unfathomable.”
Trebor Worthen, a Calvey campaign consultant, insisted that the campaign had never expected a blowout and that a runoff was fully expected.
“It wasn’t a surprise. We expected a tough race all along,” he said. “In short, we never expected it to be easy at all.”
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Lankford said he wasn’t surprised that he remained a mystery inside the Beltway.
“Washington doesn’t know me, and I don’t know Washington,” he said. “I come from a non-political background.”
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