WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to retire has ignited the political ambitions of rising stars and newcomers who want his seat and set off a chain reaction that will leave the Oklahoma City-area congressional seat open for the third time in eight years.
With candidate filing set to begin Wednesday at the Oklahoma Election Board, eight men and women from both parties have already signaled their intentions to run for Coburn’s seat by filing papers with the Federal Election Commission. More could definitely join the fray.
Dave Weston, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said, “I made the mistake of saying on the Monday before Coburn’s announcement I was concerned about voter apathy and turnout. He took care of that for me. Be careful what you wish for.”
Coburn’s term doesn’t end until 2016, so a special election is being held — with all of the same operative dates as the rest of the elections — to fill the last two years.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is running for re-election, meaning both U.S. Senate seats will be on a statewide ballot for the first time in Oklahoma history (the state’s first two U.S. senators were elected by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1907).
All five U.S. House seats are also on the ballot, and most districts are expected to have races. The 5th District seat being vacated by Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, already has 10 announced candidates, including Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, who set off another chain reaction by vacating her statewide seat.
Coburn, who was first elected in 2004, announced in January that he would retire at the end of the current congressional session. No Democrat in Oklahoma has won a U.S. Senate election since 1990 — when David Boren won his final re-election bid — and Republicans are heavily favored to keep the seat in the GOP column.
Lankford has served only three years in the House but rose quickly and now is a member of the House Republican leadership team. State Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, served as speaker of the Oklahoma House and has been tagged a rising star for the GOP by national observers.
They are the early front-runners for the Republican nomination; both have been touring the state, raising money and snagging endorsements.
John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said last week that the senator has no intention to endorse a candidate to succeed him.
Oklahomans generally don’t like being told who to vote for, particularly by politicians and interest groups outside the state.”
Spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn