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Lankford wins in primary upset

(BP)—A former director of an Oklahoma Baptist youth camp who had never run for political office scored a major upset in a congressional Republican primary July 27 and will advance to an Aug. 24 runoff.

James Lankford, program director at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Falls Creek summer camp from 1996-2009, won the GOP primary for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District with 33.58 percent (18,755 votes) of the vote and advances to the runoff to face Kevin Calvey, who was the favorite and finished second at 32.48 percent (18,143 votes). One political expert quoted in called the upset “unfathomable.”

The runoff winner will be the favorite to win the district, which has been represented by a Republican since the mid-1970s. It covers Oklahoma City. Republican Mary Fallin, its current representative, resigned to run for governor.

A former state representative, Calvey outspent Lankford roughly two-to-one, according to, and was endorsed by several conservative organizations, including Club for Growth and Gun Owners of America. Lankford’s candidacy received boosts from endorsements by former representative J.C. Watts and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Former Oklahoma pastor and Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff also backed Lankford.

A member of Oklahoma City, Quail Springs, Lankford apparently was aided by strong support by Christians and new voters. The camp he directed, Falls Creek, is a high-profile camp in Oklahoma that sees around 50,000 youth visit it each summer. It calls itself the “largest Christian youth encampment in the world” and it was a year-round job for Lankford; during the off months he was preparing for the next year’s camp.

“God gave us favor with a lot of people,” Lankford, 42, told Baptist Press, referencing his and his wife’s years at the youth camp. “We’ve just served people for a long time. People know who we are and what we’re all about—our background and our passion for God and for people.”

Still, Lankford’s support didn’t show up in the pre-election polls. A July 13 Sooner Poll showed Calvey leading Lankford in the seven-candidate race, 28 percent to 20 percent. A March Sooner Poll had Calvey leading at 20 percent and Lankford in third place at 7 percent.

Lankford, who majored in speech and history at the University of Texas and received a master of divinity degree at Southwestern Seminary, said he began sensing God calling him into politics in September 2008. He and his wife struggled with that call for several months before deciding in March 2009 that he would run for Congress.

“It was so clear and God had confirmed it in so many ways in the previous seven months that we knew we were going to be grandparents one day telling our grandchildren about the time we didn’t follow God if we don’t do this. We had to do this,” Lankford said.

He resigned his position at Falls Creek after the 2009 summer camp and soon filed the paperwork to run for Congress. He intentionally chose not to start small and run, for instance, in a local election or for the state legislature.

“We really sensed this was what God was calling us to do. It was very specific for us; it was this particular race, this particular year,” Lankford said.

His campaign Web site says he is a “reliable conservative Republican” who is “devoted to God, family and the constitution.” A pro-lifer and a social conservative, Lankford said several issues were on his mind in 2008 when he began sensing God’s call, including the national debt and the “overreach” of the federal government.

“This is not a shot at the last two years. This has been occurring for decades now—this rapid shift away from a basic federal system,” Lankford said.
He knows the campaign will only get tougher.

“It is a single elimination tournament,” Lankford said. “There were seven of us in the first race. Now there are two of us.”


Author: Staff

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  • Gerald P Sawyer

    Since the Baptist Messenger saw fit to run a story on Lankford who is running for public office, I was wondering if Kevin Calvey was offered some free advertising in the Messenger?
    If not, what happened to separation of church and state in the political arena. This seems like an end run around backing a politician.
    Would like an answer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Douglas Baker

    Mr. Sawyer –

    Thank you for your comment. The story to which you refer was originally written by our colleague at Baptist Press, Michael Foust. It was published on the BP newswire immediately after Mr. Lankford’s position in the run-off election. This piece is a research-based piece which only highlighted the facts of the election by a former employee of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The Baptist Messenger has not endorsed any political candidate in any race, and we will not do so.

    As to your reference to Thomas Jefferson’s language to the Danbury Baptists (separation of church and state), this story in no way compromises at any point the freedom of the press to comment or publish anything of newsworthy interest to our readers. The very fact that Mr. Lankford served Oklahoma Baptists with distinction for many years is reason enough to highlight his achievement in the political arena.

    With kind regards,
    Douglas Baker

    • David Jenkins

      “The Baptist Messenger has not endorsed any political candidate in any race, and we will not do so. ”

      Sure you haven’t.

      So, when are you running a story on Kevin Calvey? Here is his office number (405) 751-7555. You can contact his campaign to give him some free advertising there. If you’d like, you can also e-mail him at

  • David Jenkins

    I am a lifelong Southern Baptist, and I attended Falls Creek from 4th to 11th grade. I would have been there after my senior year of high school, but I was in Marine Corps Boot Camp two weeks after I graduated from high school.

    I believe that the church should be involved in politics and taking a stand on moral issues. However, endorsing candidates from the pulpits of Southern Baptist churches and handing out James Lankford signs in the lobbies of Southern Baptist churches on Sunday mornings should not be done.

    I am supporting Kevin Calvey for the U.S. Congressional 5th District race. Kevin is a devout Christian. No, he’s not Southern Baptist, but then neither was Jesus Christ. Kevin Calvey has a proven record of standing up for traditional marriage and pro-life stances. While Kevin Calvey has taken action on these issues, James Lankford has only talked about them.

    The Baptist General Convention and the Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma’s U.S. 5th Congressional District had better remember what their mission is: The Great Commission. They had better remember that saving souls is their reason for being. They had better remember that they are to preach Jesus Christ on Sunday mornings and not James Lankford.

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