WASHINGTON — Rep. Dan Boren, the only Democrat in Oklahoma's seven-person congressional delegation, will not seek re-election in 2012, setting up what could be an intense partisan battle for a seat that spans much of eastern Oklahoma.
Boren, 37, made the announcement in his hometown of Muskogee, saying he would serve out the rest of his term.
Boren, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 2004, said in an interview that his decision was driven by the prospect of more “constant campaigning.” The “slog,” as he put it, almost led him to retire before the 2010 elections, and he decided months ago not to run for a fifth term.
With state Republicans looking to capture the only Democratic seat in the delegation, Boren said he knew he would have had a serious challenge next year.
“It wouldn't have been just a gimme election,” he said. “But I'm confident we would have been successful. It would have just been the constant slog.”
He said there was some sadness in his decision.
“I'm also very happy,” he said. “I'm going to see my kids more.”
Boren and his wife, Andrea, have two children: Janna Lou, who is 3, and Hunter, who is 8 months. Boren said he hadn't given much thought to what he will do when his term ends in early 2013, and that he hadn't ruled out running for office in the future.
“I'm open to doing something in the public or private sector,” said Boren, who served in the state House of Representatives before his election to Congress. “I want to live in Oklahoma.”
Voters in the 2nd District — which, because of redistricting changes, will include all or part of 26 eastern Oklahoma counties — may have a lot of candidates to choose from next year.
Boren's predecessor in the 2nd District seat, Democrat Brad Carson, said Tuesday that he plans to run for the seat.
Carson, 44, of Claremore, is now a business and law professor at the University of Tulsa. Carson gave up the House seat in 2004 to run for the U.S. Senate, but lost to Republican Tom Coburn.
Former state Sen. Kenneth Corn, a Poteau Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last year, said he is very likely to run. State Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, is expected to launch an exploratory committee.
Matt Pinnell, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said Boren's announcement creates an opportunity for conservatives to “elect a Republican who will go to Washington and vote the Oklahoma way, not the Obama way.”
Boren, a conservative Democrat who has often been at odds with the majority of House Democrats and with President Barack Obama, had his toughest re-election fight in 2010, winning with 57 percent of the vote as the district rebelled against Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Boren had topped 70 percent in 2006 and 2008.
He spent $1.8 million in the last election cycle to win re-election against unknown Republican Charles Thompson, who spent less than $50,000.
Boren is a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate and conservative Democrats whose ranks were cut nearly in half in the 2010 elections, when Republicans regained control of the House. Boren said shortly after the elections that he wouldn't support Pelosi as minority leader, and he voted against her.
Boren never officially endorsed Obama, who lost every county in Oklahoma in 2008, and he strongly opposed some of the president's biggest priorities, including health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. He did support the stimulus bill.
But even a district thought to be safe for Democrats — it includes most of what used to be known as Little Dixie, the Democratic stronghold in the state — has proved to be challenging as Oklahoma grows more conservative.
Obama praised Boren's service on Tuesday, saying he had “exemplified a commitment to creating jobs and economic opportunity for his constituents and rural communities, all the while continuing his family's long line of public service and dedication to the state of Oklahoma.”
The affable and mild-mannered Boren is the son of University of Oklahoma President David Boren, who is a former U.S. senator and Oklahoma governor; Boren's grandfather, the late Lyle Boren, served in the U.S. House from 1937-47.
In Congress, Boren has focused on national security, tribal and energy issues. An avid sportsman and a member of the National Rifle Association board, Boren has also been a strong proponent of gun rights.
The National Republican Congressional Committee announced that it would target Boren's seat in the last election, but never followed through with any major effort to defeat him. Republicans are expected to make a strong push to win the seat next year.
Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the GOP congressional committee, said Tuesday, “Dan Boren is the last of a dying breed of Democrats who are no longer welcome in a party driven by the job-destroying agenda of President Obama and Nancy Pelosi.”