Endorsements for Lankford begin ahead of 2022 GOP primary

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Jun. 29—After his primary challenger rallied in Norman over the weekend — and with a year left before the Republican primary — Sen. James Lankford on Monday released a list of 82 elected officials who have officially endorsed him for re-election.

The endorsements include all but one member of Oklahoma's federal delegation — Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Tulsa — and the top Republicans in the state, including Gov. Kevin Stitt, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, Sen. Pro-Tem Greg Treat, R-OKC, and speaker of the state House Charles McCall, R-Atoka. Hern has not made any endorsements in this primary race, a spokesperson for him told The Transcript.

It's not rare for state officials to endorse a candidate in the Republican primary. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who announced he was running on March 5, 2020, received the endorsement of Stitt and Oklahoma's federal delegation on March 9, 2020.

Lankford faces Tulsa-based pastor Jackson Lahmeyer in the 2022 GOP primary for the state's junior Senate seat.

"I am honored by the outpouring of support from these dedicated Oklahoma leaders," Lankford said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing the work on behalf of Oklahomans in the U.S. Senate ... I am grateful to the thousands of Oklahomans across all 77 counties who strongly support my campaign as we continue to protect our Oklahoma values together."

The original list of endorsements released by Lankford's campaign did have some discrepancies — five names on the list released to the media were not included on the list publicly released on Lankford's campaign website.

One person originally on both lists, Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, took to Facebook to claim that he never actually endorsed Lankford.

"I would like to publicly state that I have not endorsed anyone for U.S. Senate," McDugle said in the post. "I am upset that my name was mentioned without my permission in support of Senator Lankford. I specifically told the senator on the phone when he asked for my endorsement that I could not endorse."

When asked about the discrepancy, a spokesperson for Families for James Lankford, the senator's campaign committee, did not address the question.

"In the last 24 hours, we have publicly released the official endorsements of over 80 Oklahoma elected leaders from every corner of the state," the spokesperson said. "Each leader, like each voter, has the right to support the candidate of their choice. It is clear that the overwhelming number of statewide and local elected leaders stand with Senator Lankford in his re-election bid."

Lankford has also received the endorsement of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-GA.

Compared to Lankford's nearly 80 statewide and local endorsers, Lahmeyer has received only one endorsement from an Oklahoma official, but numerous endorsements from national right-wing figures.

Lahmeyer, who is campaigning as an anti-establishment Republican, was highly critical of Lankford's endorsements, referring to them on Facebook as a "cabal."

"The swamp in OKC is exposing itself and it's a good thing for Oklahoma," he said in the post. "I will continue to fight back against the Cabal on behalf of the people!"

Lahmeyer's only endorsement from an Oklahoma official has come from John Bennett, the chair of the Oklahoma GOP, who will not endorse Lahmeyer publicly as the chairman. Bennett said he supports Lahmayer in a personal capacity, and was not representing the state GOP when he campaigned for Lahmeyer at his Norman Embassy Suites event on Saturday.

"I haven't publicly [endorsed] as the GOP chairman," Bennett said. "However, Jackson is a friend of mine and he's the right person for the job."

Bennett said as a grassroots Republican, he believes Oklahoma needs an anti-establishment Republican in the Senate, which is why he is drawn to Lahmeyer.

Lahmeyer also has the backing of Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, who spoke Saturday in Norman to support Lahmeyer. Flynn has pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump — a conspiracy Lahmeyer has made central to his campaign — and has called for a Myanmar-style coup in the U.S.

"This is the type of leader not just Oklahoma needs — this is the type of leader that America needs," Flynn said on stage next to Lahmeyer Saturday.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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