By most accounts, Sen. James Lankford is the type of politician a person like Jackson Lahmeyer would seem to support. Both have been pastors and subscribe to a deeply conservative and evangelical faith tradition. Their views against abortion, defense of the 2nd Amendment, and that conservative culture is under attack from the “radical left” also align.
But where Lahmeyer diverges is in his belief that Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election.
“I saw fear all over (Lankford) on Jan. 6, he caved in like an absolute coward and that let me know he is not the man to represent our state and the fight that our country is in right now,” Lahmeyer said earlier this month when he announced his campaign to take on Lankford in next year’s Republican primary.
Lankford had planned to challenge President Joe Biden’s 2020 win and was in the process of making his case on the Senate floor on Jan. 6 when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, some threatening to execute the vice president and members of congress in objection to Biden’s win.
Hours after the attack, Lankford withdrew his challenge and voted to certify the electoral college results.
Lankford has cultivated a deeply conservative platform since he was elected to the Senate in 2014 that would seem to position him well for reelection next year in one of the reddest states in the nation. But in a state like Oklahoma, where Trump won every county in 2016 and 2020, fidelity to the former president remains a standard for many voters that Lahmeyer is hoping to tap into.
Even before a single vote was cast in the November election, Trump promoted false claims that the presidential election would be rigged. After he lost, Trump continued to push the conspiracy theory, losing numerous court battles but enraging many of his supporters, including those who stormed the Capitol in January.
For the moment, Lahmeyer’s campaign might have some momentum as Lankford’s approval among voters appeared to have shrunk following the Capitol riots.
Lankford’s statewide approval rating plunged from 63 percent in December to 46 percent after Jan. 6, according to polling by Amber Integrated, an Oklahoma City-based political affairs firm. The poll found that Lankford’s approval rating among Republicans dropped from 75 percent to 62 percent during the same period. “For Lankford, the numbers are concerning but the question is whether that drop has staying power,” said Jackson Lisle, a partner at Amber Integrated.
One factor might be how involved Trump becomes in the 2022 midterm elections.
Lahmeyer is one of several candidates across the country taking on incumbents within their own party because of a lack of complete allegiance to Trump. The former president has endorsed some of those challengers but has not yet weighed in on Oklahoma’s Senate race.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, said he planned to contact the former president about extending an endorsement to Lahmeyer.
“We don’t need namby-pamby, we don’t need wishy-washy, we don’t need political correctness, we don’t need cancel culture … we need people who are very consistent in their beliefs,” said Flynn, who traveled to Tulsa this month to endorse Lahmeyer.
Lahmeyer’s early circle of endorsements and advisors not only indicates his campaign’s skepticism of the 2020 presidential election results but also a denial of the COVID-19 pandemic as a serious health crisis.
The Lahmeyer campaign’s health advisor, Dr. Jim Meehan, a Tulsa ophthalmologist, rejects masks and the vaccine as forms of government control.
Lahmeyer, who is pastor of Sheridan Church in Tulsa, has been an outspoken critic of the city’s mask mandate.
Flynn, who plans to return to Oklahoma in April with election fraud conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, has become a darling of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which believes a “cabal” of liberal politicians and business leaders controls the government and is responsible for Trump’s election loss.
Flynn has appeared at QAnon events and promoted its false theories online. He even appeared to take the group’s oath last year in a video he tweeted with a popular QAnon hashtag.
During his visit to Tulsa to campaign for Lahmeyer, Flynn said he didn’t know what QAnon was when asked about it by a reporter.
Lahmeyer didn’t mention QAnon in his campaign announcement but he did say the nation was “under attack from the radical left,” which was trying to control society.
Asked by a reporter who the “radical left” included, Lahmeyer said, “You’re a part of that, and a lot of government officials are a part of that and a lot of people with a lot of nefarious purposes are part of that.”
Lankford, who did not respond to an interview request for this story, has drawn the scorn of Trump supporters before. In December, during the presidential transition, Lankford said Biden deserved to receive national intelligence briefings as president-elect before reversing his stance after a wave of criticism.
Lahmeyer has also criticized Lankford for apologizing to Black voters for his previous effort to question results from majority-Black cities, and for authoring a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
A Trump endorsement could shake up Oklahoma’s Senate race, said Chris Wilson, CEO of WPAi, a political consulting firm with an office in Oklahoma City. But endorsements from established Oklahoma politicians could also loom large.
“I think anyone running for reelection in 2022 is going to want to have the support of Gov. Kevin Stitt because his numbers are amazing,” Wilson said, referring to internal polls his firm has conducted on Stitt’s favorability among Oklahoma Republicans.
Stitt, who is also seeking reelection in 2022, will likely support the Republican nominee in the U.S. Senate race but may not weigh in officially during the primary.
But as an incumbent, Lankford might have a chance to position himself with Stitt, whether it be on disaster response projects or photo opps of the two working together on federal policy.
Lankford hasn’t officially announced his plan to seek reelection but Jim Bridenstine, a former Oklahoma representative and recent director of NASA under the Trump administration, recently endorsed Lankford.
“Our state strongly benefits from the proven conservative leadership of James Lankford in the United States Senate,” said Bridenstine in a statement shared by Lankford on his Facebook page.
Lankford will also benefit from a sizable war chest with almost $1 million already on hand, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report.
“The key for anyone going after an incumbent is money. (Laymeyer) may have a message but is he going to be able to get his message out?” said Lisle, the partner at Amber Integrated.
Lahmeyer has not yet registered his campaign with the Federal Election Commission but he has already begun raising money, including at a kickoff rally this month in Tulsa.
His embrace of figures like Flynn and Powell, both returning to Oklahoma next month, could also drum up media attention that Lahmeyer hopes will give his early campaign a boost.
Asked by a reporter whether Flynn was worried his recent history of twice pleading guilty of lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador during the Trump transition in 2016 would taint Lahmeyer, the Tulsa pastor gave his own answer.
“Why are you here? Because he’s here,” Lahmeyer said at the Tulsa press announcement. “So yes, his endorsement carries a lot of weight.”
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