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Oklahoma GOP chairman makes 'unheard of' endorsement of primary challenger to Sen. James Lankford
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Oklahoma GOP chairman makes 'unheard of' endorsement of primary challenger to Sen. James Lankford

A high-ranking Republican official in Oklahoma is breaking tradition by openly opposing Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) for re-election, supporting Lankford's primary challenger because the senator did not follow through with his pledge to object to the 2020 election results on Jan. 6.

State party officials in both the Republican and Democratic primaries almost always remain publicly neutral in primary elections, but newly elected Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman John Bennett is supporting Jackson Lahmeyer for the state's GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

Bennett, according to the Oklahoman, told reporters at a June 26 rally for Lahmeyer he is opposing Lankford because the senator failed to keep his promise to object to the certification of the Electoral College results during a Joint Session of Congress on Jan. 6, when Joe Biden was certified as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Lankford was originally one of several Republican senators who announced they would object to the certification of the election. He had been speaking on the Senate floor, giving a speech defending those who were objecting, when he was interrupted so members of Congress could evacuate the Capitol building after a mob of Trump supporters trespassed there to interrupt the proceedings.

Once police regained control of the building from the mob, the lawmakers returned. By the time Lankford resumed his speech, he had changed his position, withdrawing his objection.

"Rioters and thugs don't run the Capitol. We are the United States of America," Lankford declared.

The challenger Bennet is supporting, Lahmeyer, is a staunch Trump supporter who claims the 2020 election was "stolen" and says Lankford acted "like an absolute coward" on Jan. 6. He has also been endorsed by Trump's former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Reacting, Lankford told Tulsa World on Sunday that the chairman's actions were "unheard of."

"I'd say 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,'" said Lankford.

"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," he added.

"That's the nature of every leader of every party, by the way, Republican or Democrat."

A representative for Bennett told Tulsa World that his support for Lankford's challenger was akin to the governor personally endorsing Lankford. Bennett previously told the Oklahoman that he is endorsing Lahmeyer as an individual, not in his capacity as the state GOP chairman.

Still, observers in Oklahoma say open opposition to a Republican incumbent from any state GOP official is highly unusual.

State Sen. Shane Jett (R) said this was the first instance of the sitting party chairman giving public support to any primary candidate he's seen in more than 30 years of his involvement in politics.

"I think this is unprecedented, because my assumption was always that the party allows the party members to make a decision about who they want in the primary," Jett said. "I had thought … the party leadership allowed candidates an even platform of opportunity, and once you're elected (as chairman), you allow the rank-and-file members to decide."

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