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Frustration with Republican Sen. James Lankford over declining to vote to object to Electoral College results on Jan. 6 is manifesting in “unheard of” support for his election-truther Republican primary opponent from state party officials.
Tulsa pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, a challenger to Lankford who boasts an endorsement from former President Donald Trump's first national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, has become a vehicle for loyalists to the former president and those who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Last month, Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman John Bennett spoke at a Lahmeyer-organized event with more than 2,000 attendees. This week, a county Republican Party endorsed Lahmeyer.
Lankford had stated his intention to object to Arizona’s Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 and wanted a commission to audit 2020 election results but changed course after the Capitol riot. About a week later, he wrote a letter apologizing to those in North Tulsa, which is home to many predominantly black neighborhoods, for the appearance of a “direct attack” on black voting rights.
“He apologized for questioning the fraud. That was kind of the nail in the coffin for me,” Lahmeyer told the Washington Examiner in a brief interview on Tuesday. “James is the great appeaser. He wants to appease everybody. But that doesn't work in today's political climate.”
Bennett didn’t directly mention Lahmeyer or Lankford as he gave a speech at the Lahmeyer event adorned with campaign signs. But the state party chairman reportedly criticized Lankford’s lack of objection on Jan. 6.
"Just because someone has an 'R' behind their name doesn't mean they're the right pick,” said Bennett, who became chairman of the state party in April in an open election. The 21-year Marine veteran and former state representative previously made headlines for calling Islam a “cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.”
There is no party rule that bars the state chairman from supporting a primary opponent to an incumbent senator, but, as Lankford put it, the move is “unheard of.”
“It’s highly unusual for a state party chair in any state in America to come out and say, ‘I’m not going to at least be neutral,’” Lankford said. “Obviously, the state party makes their own decisions on what they want to be able to do. But every state party chairman I’ve ever talked to has … at a minimum — it’s always just, remain neutral.”
Lankford is not the only Republican official whom Bennett has targeted. In a May Facebook post, he publicly criticized Republican Oklahoma Rep. Stephanie Bice for voting in favor of a Jan. 6 commission.
Lahmeyer brushed off any "establishment hacks" upset about support from Bennett. Lankford "released 80 political endorsements" last week, he said, and "if John Bennett would have been a part of those 80, nobody would have complained."
Bennett is not the only party official in Oklahoma actively supporting Lankford’s opponent, though. On Monday, the Logan County Republican Party, north of Oklahoma City, unanimously endorsed Lahmeyer for Senate over Lankford.
"This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the County and 30 plus other counties passed a resolution earlier this year to censure and called for the resignation of Senator Lankford," Kyle Brown, chairman of the Logan County GOP who had previously individually endorsed Lahmeyer, said in a statement.
A string of censure resolutions, rebukes that carry no legal power, signal anger among the Trump loyalist base that could cause Lankford headaches.
The Mayes County Republican Party voted in April to censure Lankford and Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe for “failure to support delaying the certification of electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election.” The Osage County Republican Party, which in January censured Lankford and Inhofe for “failure to support President Trump and the will of their constituents,” announced on Tuesday another censure resolution vote based on Lankford and Inhofe’s failure to object to Electoral College certification.
Other local counties are less formal but just as public about their frustration with Lankford. The Beaver County Facebook group shared a post from Lahmayer criticizing Lankford’s campaign contributions from Pfizer, a producer of one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Lahmeyer faces an uphill battle in his race against Lankford before next year’s primary, but the support from Bennett and local Republicans, which, he said, came naturally, not through organization, is an encouraging sign.
“Everybody in the state of Oklahoma said, you know, ‘James can't be beat,’” Lahmeyer told the Washington Examiner. But he insisted that the incumbent senator is vulnerable, citing the grassroots anger at him. Lankford "needs security if he's going to go to some of these events" because he is "hated in the state of Oklahoma."
He dinged Lankford for proposing a bill last year to replace the Columbus Day holiday with Juneteenth, arguing that Columbus Day is worth preserving, and serving on the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, which Lankford later stepped down from after the commission considered using some of the $30 million it raised for a history museum for direct reparations instead.
Lahmeyer told the Washington Examiner that he raised more than $200,000 in the second quarter of this year from April through the end of June, with none of that coming from political action committees. That is in addition to the $40,000 he raised in the two weeks after announcing his campaign before the first-quarter deadline.
Lankford has not yet revealed his second-quarter fundraising figures, but he raised about $199,400 in the first quarter of the year and had more than $1 million in cash-on-hand as of March 31.
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Original Author: Emily Brooks