WASHINGTON — Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday called a special election to fill Sen. Tom Coburn's seat and set the dates to coincide with already scheduled elections.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, announced late Thursday that he would retire at the end of the congressional session, leaving two years on his current term.
All of the dates for the special election are the same as those for the regular elections. The primary will be June 24; potential runoff elections would be Aug. 26; and the general election will occur Nov. 4.
The situation is similar to that in 1994, when former U.S. Sen. David Boren announced his resignation so he could take over the presidency at the University of Oklahoma.
That year, the special election dates also coincided with the regularly scheduled elections. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, won the last two years of Boren's term. Boren stepped down immediately after the election, giving Inhofe a leg up on all-important seniority in the Senate.
Coburn plans to stay until the session ends and his successor is sworn in with the rest of the new members.
Members of Congress and statewide elected officials who are looking at running for Coburn's seat would have to give up the offices they now hold.
That means some major risk assessment for those who could easily be re-elected to their current offices.
The filing period is in early April, but, realistically, candidates will have to decide long before then whether they're going to make the race.
Among those likely to consider the race are U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa; Tom Cole, R-Moore; and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt also may be interested, along with Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon; they're both Republicans.
There will be a musical chairs effect if any or some of them run for Coburn's seat.
An Oklahoma Democrat hasn't won a U.S. Senate seat since 1990, and most handicappers have Coburn's seat remaining GOP. That means a very conservative primary electorate likely will be picking the next U.S. senator.
Friday, officials came to praise Coburn rather than succeed him.
Fallin, who is running for re-election for governor this year, said she's not interested in Coburn's seat. She called the senator “one of the most influential voices in American politics today.”
President Barack Obama, who has been friends with Coburn since 2004, when they first were elected to the Senate, said, “Those of us who have had the privilege of serving with Tom Coburn will be sad to lose him as a colleague here in Washington.
“Tom and I entered the Senate at the same time, becoming friends after our wives struck up a conversation at an orientation dinner. And even though we haven't always agreed politically, we've found ways to work together — to make government more transparent, cut down on earmarks, and fight to reduce wasteful spending and make our tax system fairer.
“The people of Oklahoma have been well-served by this ‘country doctor from Muskogee' over the past nine years, and I'm confident that Tom's strength and optimism will carry him through the battles to come. Michelle and I will always be grateful to Tom and Carolyn for their friendship, and we wish them all the best in all the years ahead.”