Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole says conservative outside groups that consider getting involved in the race to replace Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will be wasting their money.
The Senate Conservatives Fund and Madison Project have encouraged GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine to enter the special election field as a conservative alternative to Rep. James Lankford, who is so far the only declared candidate in what's expected to be a competitive race.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Cole said he doesn't believe well-financed outside groups interested in assisting a particular candidate will have a great effect on the outcome of the race — no matter how much they spend.
“Groups coming from outside the state, coming to try and set the agenda, sorry,” Cole said. “You are welcome to come, but you ought to look at your track record.”
Cole cited the Club for Growth's support for former state Rep. Kevin Calvey in the 2006 and 2010 primaries in the 5th district. Calvey first lost to Mary Fallin, who is now governor, and then to Lankford in the 2010 runoff to replace Fallin.
“Was Mary Fallin really a dangerous liberal? Was Jim Lankford really a bad choice? I think not," Cole said.
The Club for Growth has not indicated whether it will get involved in this race, but it's made clear it will not support Lankford.
Cole said he's in no hurry to endorse a candidate, even if outside groups do enter the fray. A former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Cole works side by side in the delegation with Lankford and Bridenstine, who is still considering whether to run.
He is also close to state Speaker T.W. Shannon, the state's first African-American speaker, who is also exploring a bid. Shannon worked as a staffer for Cole prior to his own political career, and Cole said he expects Shannon to enter the contest.
“These are all my friends,”Cole said. “They all can raise resources. The history is third parties are not particularly successful. Oklahoma voters will pick who they want and they’re going to have several good choices."
The special primary and general elections to replace Coburn, who announced his resignation this month, are set to occur concurrently with the regularly scheduled 2014 midterm elections. The primary will be held on June 24, with an Aug. 26 runoff if no candidate exceeds 50 percent of the vote in the primary. Candidates have until April 11 to file the necessary paperwork to run.
No matter which Republican emerges from the primary, Cole said the seat is likely to stay in the GOP's control. President Barack Obama lost the state by a 33-point margin in 2012.
“This is not a Missouri or an Indiana situation,” he noted, two states where Democrats managed to win in red states in 2012.
Oklahoma's Senate contest is rated Safe Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.