- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn hasn’t officially endorsed any of the seven Republicans seeking to replace him, but he delivered strong criticism Thursday of attack ads against James Lankford, one of the leading candidates.

Coburn criticized the ads by so-called “dark-money” groups such as Oklahomans for a Conservative Future that support GOP challenger T.W. Shannon and criticize Lankford, a two-term U.S. congressman from Edmond, for his votes to increase the debt limit and approve a federal budget.

“They simply aren’t truthful and they mischaracterize James Lankford’s service in Congress,” Coburn said in a statement. “I have come to know James Lankford in his short but very productive time in Washington, and I know he is a man of absolute integrity.”

Shannon, a former Oklahoma House speaker from Lawton, and Lankford are the front-runners for the Republican nomination in the race to replace Coburn, who announced in January that he was stepping down with two years left on his term.

Shannon has drawn support from tea party-aligned conservative groups in Washington and has tried to paint Lankford as a Washington insider.

Shannon maintains he has spoken out against negative ads from outside groups but said Lankford’s debt-limit votes were fair targets.

“I cannot control the messaging of outside groups, but I can control what my campaign says and does,” Shannon said in a statement. “My campaign has focused on my record as Speaker, and Congressman Lankford’s record of voting to increase America’s debt limit.”

Lankford has said his votes to increase the debt limit weren’t made lightly, but were necessary to prevent a massive federal government shutdown and broad negative economic repercussions.

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