OK newbie scores ‘unfathomable’ primary win

Alex Isenstadt
Politico
7/28/2010

James Lankford's win in the Oklahoma 5th District primary over Kevin Calvey has some in Washington asking, 'Who?' AP

Youth camp director James Lankford’s first-place finish in Tuesday’s Oklahoma 5th District primary has Washington Republicans, many of whom backed former state Rep. Kevin Calvey, scratching their heads.

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 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.

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