To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Sunday, December 4, 2022


Lankford, By The Numbers



Arnold1-2012Republican Rep. James Lankford’s quick decision to run for Tom Coburn’s soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat can be summed up by two numbers: 1,800 and 640,000.

The first is the number of Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma. The second is the number of members affiliated with those churches.

Lankford is only halfway through his second two-year term and his district, Oklahoma’s 5th, covers parts of only three of the state’s 77 counties.

But he has statewide name recognition that traces directly to the 1,800 and 640,000 – priceless given the relatively short campaign period created by Coburn’s sudden decision to retire early.

Southern Baptist congregants across the state know Lankford from his years of running the Falls Creek summer youth camp. And he’s been a long-time fill-in guest preacher at SBC-affiliated churches across the state.

Indeed, you can make a case he may more popular statewide than in his mostly urban congressional district where Southern Baptist churches are less influential overall than in small town Oklahoma and where the state’s more moderate-progressive-liberal voters tend to congregate.

The state’s brightest, savviest congressman, Tom Cole, would have been a formidable contender, no doubt. But he also is a realist: At 64, it’s probably not worth starting over in the Senate, particularly when you’d be giving up a House leadership position. And he’s always been the consummate Republican team player – my guess is, he figures Lankford has the clearest path to victory in November.

Most interesting, though, is the notion that rookie Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa might challenge for the Coburn seat.

Bridenstine isn’t terribly popular in his district: A Tulsa World-Oklahoma Poll in early November found only 44% of voters [in the Tulsa portion] approved of the job he was doing.

But he is a national Tea Party darling. The World reported today, for example, he was in South Carolina over the weekend speaking at a Tea Party convention and that he has ties to former SC Sen. Jim DeMint, now president of the conservative “think-tank” – there’s an oxymoron for you – Heritage Foundation.

Deep-pocketed Heritage-types – think: Koch Brothers and their ilk – could make Bridenstine competitive instantly.

The question is, why bother? Lankford is Jim Inhofe with a smile. Lankford, Inhofe and Bridenstine all reside in the Dark Ages when it comes to climate science, reproductive rights, fair and equal treatment of LGBTQ Americans and on and on.

In fact, they’re nearly perfect for the majority of Oklahoma’s minority that manages to pry itself away from Duck Dynasty long enough to cast electoral ballots.

An aside: Isn’t it interesting that neither longtime U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, the House Agriculture Committee chair, nor rookie Congressman Markwayne Mullin are being mentioned as possible Senate candidates?

Lucas’ base, of course, is the less populated western half of Oklahoma. Coupled with a vanilla personality, he’s not likely to capture voter imagination when it comes to replacing a gadfly like Coburn.

And Mullin? Well, he’s probably still busy trying to sort out how many branches of government there are.

We’ll take a look at potential Democratic candidates in a future post. And a more complete analysis of the Senate race – and Coburn’s political career – will appear in the February Observer.

Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer



  1. You remain Oklahoma’s premiere writer. I hope you are gearing up to write books. I suggest the title of your first novel be ‘Whatever Happened to Oklahoma.’ Lankford or Bridenstine? My English Lit professor would call that — correctly — a Hobson’s choice.

  2. Thank you for supplying the facts about the Southern Baptist Convention in Oklahoma. I knew it was influential, and now there are numbers to prove it. What is surprising is that this angle is not reported in the mainstream press. Is that because the media does not want to offend its biggest customer base? This is why Lankford will be almost impossible to beat. Is he even going to have a challenger in the primary? A mainstream conservative like Cole, even with his Native American cred, is now too liberal for Oklahoma. Nobody can compete with Lankford’s biggest weapon: social media like Facebook and “free” advertising every Sunday morning. The Southern Baptists are no doubt ecstatic. They really believe they can go back to to the 1950s when they ran the state and called the shots politically. I was shocked in the late ’70s when I moved here and learned that the SBC commandment that “the wife will graciously submit to her husband” was actually buried in state law!
    If you are a non- conservative female, gay, young, pack your bags now.

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.