OKLAHOMA CITY — Now that Oklahoma Democrats have chosen a candidate to battle a well-known congressman in the U.S. Senate race, their job becomes figuring out how she can win in a state that has turned overwhelmingly Republican.
State Sen. Connie Johnson won the Democratic Party's nomination on Tuesday, advancing to a general-election contest against Rep. James Lankford, a two-term GOP congressman who ran a popular Baptist youth camp before entering politics.
Oklahoma is considered the reddest of the red states, with President Barack Obama failing to win any county in either of his presidential elections and Republicans holding every state office since 2010.
"You start by stop believing that mantra" that a Democrat cannot win in Oklahoma, Johnson said Wednesday. "I'm running for the U.S. Senate to represent all the people of the state of Oklahoma and for me, that's all the race is about. Politics is local."
Wallace Collins, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said that while Johnson is well-known in Oklahoma City, she must build name recognition elsewhere.
"She's going to be the underdog, there's no question about that, but underdogs win sometimes," Collins said. "Her chore is going to be to get out in the rest of the state so she can be well-known there."
Lankford, who won his party's nomination over five other candidates in June, said he doesn't believe the race is his to lose.
"I've heard people say that, and it's very kind of them to say, but I take nothing for granted," Lankford said Wednesday. "My race all along is to be a long job interview."
Regarding actual campaign issues, Johnson said she wants to improve education and bring jobs to the state, particularly infrastructure-related jobs such as road and bridge construction. She has sponsored several bills to decriminalize marijuana in Oklahoma and said she would not back down.
"Let's tax and regulate marijuana. It's here, it's not going away," Johnson said. "Just like we did with alcohol and tobacco, it's time for us to get our heads out of the sand."
Lankford said he wants to work to balance the federal budget and limit federal regulations.
"We have to allow our states to make decisions that impact the people and not allow the government to impact our future with unnecessary regulations," Lankford said.
Lankford also said he seeks to reform the nation's immigration laws and said there are areas in which both Republicans and Democrats can agree and should focus attention in those areas.
"It cannot be done in one giant bill, it has to be done one piece at a time," Lankford said.