The special-election primary to replace resigning Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is tightening after an advertising blitz benefiting Republican state Speaker T.W. Shannon.
A poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, an outside group backing Shannon, found the state speaker cutting into the early GOP primary lead of Rep. James Lankford. Lankford, who is the favorite to fill the remaining two years of Coburn's term, led with 37 percent, followed by Shannon with 28 percent and former state Sen. Randy Brogdon with 7 percent.
A half dozen candidates are running to replace Coburn, a favorite among conservatives, who is stepping down at the end of the year. The special is following the state's regular election schedule: If no candidate receives a majority of support in the June 24 primary, the top two finishers will face off in an Aug. 26 runoff and the winner will move on to November.
The new poll was conducted after the Oklahomans for a Conservative Future dropped $300,000 on TV advertising and direct mail in support of Shannon, with another $150,000 spent on ads by the Shannon campaign. Not surprisingly, pollster Glen Bolger found that the effort had boosted Shannon's name ID to 74 percent, with 48 percent favorable and 5 percent unfavorable.
"The positive messaging has dramatically changed the status of the race," Bolger wrote in a memo to the group.
A Lankford campaign internal poll conducted in early February found the congressman leading Shannon 47 percent to 17 percent, and a Harper Polling survey taken around the same time had Lankford ahead 54 percent to 18 percent.
Despite the discrepancy in Lankford's numbers since those surveys, the new poll found he remains well regarded statewide, with a 54 percent favorable rating and 6 percent unfavorable.
The poll conducted for Oklahomans for a Conservative Future was taken March 16-17 among 500 likely primary voters, including 100 by cellphone. The margin of error was 4.38 points.
The general election race is rated Safe Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.