The 5th District congressional race could be decided prior to the general election in November. Because of the district’s registration and voting history, the next representative will most likely be a Republican.
Among the seven Republican candidates for the seat, three appear to have the campaign funding and organization to be viable contenders. They are Kevin Calvey, James Lankford and Mike Thompson.
What factors help Republican voters make a choice? Among the leading three candidates, the differences in age and gender are not significant. All are men whose ages range from 33 (Thompson) to 43 (Calvey).
Positions on social issues and ideology don’t dramatically separate them either. All three easily pass the “litmus test” used by conservative Republicans to determine true believers.
However, differences emerge when you look at the candidates’ professional and political backgrounds and how their campaigns are being financed.
Looking at their business backgrounds, Calvey, a lawyer, and Thompson, a real estate professional, have not managed a large workforce and payroll.
On the other hand, Lankford managed Falls Creek summer camp for nearly 15 years. As its CEO, Lankford oversaw an organization with more than 150 full-time and seasonal employees and an annual budget of more than a million dollars. Thousands attend the camp each year under his direction, including more than 50,000 last summer, representing every socioeconomic and ethnic background in our state.
In a year in which many voters are turning away from politicians and seeking new faces without political baggage, only one of the three candidates emerges as a citizen candidate.
Calvey is a veteran of statehouse politics, having served eight years as a state representative, holding some leadership positions during two of those years. This is his second try to win the 5th District seat.
Thompson is also immersed in politics. After college, he joined the staff of Ernest Istook’s congressional office in Washington. When Istook returned to Oklahoma for his ill-fated gubernatorial race, Thompson came back from Washington to run for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, in which he served six years.
Lankford is the only new face to politics among the three, never having served in public office.
The sources of campaign finance also distinguish the candidates. Calvey is primarily financed from a personal $250,000 loan to his campaign and substantial contributions from the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth.
Thompson parlayed his legislative support for the oil and gas industry and other interests into sources of campaign financing. A number of persons associated with local energy, publishing and sporting interests immediately came out for Thompson when Mary Fallin announced her bid for governor.
Thompson’s campaign benefits from commercials paid for by the group “Business Leaders of Oklahoma.” No information has been released at the time of this writing as to the identity of the members of this group.
The monies expended by them give Thompson the ability to have greater media exposure because they are not subject to the limitations on direct contributions to campaigns.
Given Lankford’s lack of prior political involvement, his campaign funding is remarkable for the large number of individual contributors from the 5th District. His campaign seems to have a grassroots base with substantial financial support from many individual voters.
If 5th District Republicans are looking for a fresh face without a political background, James Lankford appears to stand apart from the other major candidates in that regard.
Bleakley is publisher of Oklahoma Gazette.