Come November, Oklahoma voters will have two U.S. Senate seats to fill.
Sen. James Inhofe is up for re-election in the normal 6-year cycle and Oklahoma’s senior senator is highly favored to return to Washington.
The surprise announcement that Sen. Tom Coburn will resign his seat at the end of this Congressional session throws open quite a horse race. Since Oklahoma is one of only four states in the Union that does not allow for the governor to appoint a replacement to serve what’s left of Coburn’s term — 2 years — voters will have the opportunity to choose.
With Coburn’s sudden news, candidates from both parties are scurrying to make a decision. Running for statewide office takes more than a few months of planning and fundraising. That’s what anyone who has a desire to run for Coburn’s seat is facing.
The filing deadline is April 11, followed by a primary on June 24 and whoever wins will face off on Nov. 4.
With a small window of decision, just who are the front-runners?
Among Republicans, Rep. James Lankford, District 5 Congressman, stands out. Elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2012, he comes from the same political perspective as Coburn, though he may not be as extreme.
Lankford is intelligent and would bring broad-base support from Republicans. As the former leader of Oklahoma Baptist’s Falls Creek, his foundation of family values combined with his stance on targeted budget cuts are music to Oklahoma voters’ ears.
He serves on the House Committee on Budget, which he has had strong input on holding the Obama Administration to task on increased taxes. He is also a member of the House Commission on Oversight and Government Reform as well as chairs a House Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements.
Lankford should be the front-runner.
However, you cannot rule out the state’s other congressman. Rep. Tom Cole, District 4, has been a bridge-builder in the most recent budget battles.
Cole understands there must be some level of compromise to get things done. While this approach is not welcomed by a segment of his party, who believes it should be our way or the highway when it comes to decisions in Washington, Cole could be casted as too much of moderate for Oklahomans in light of Coburn’s constant push to downsize government programs and spending.
Freshman Congressmen Rep. Jim Bridenstine and Markwayne Mullin should be considered longshots to make a run for the senate seat.
Bridenstine is cut from the same Coburn cloth. His Tea Party views might prove too extreme for him to win during a Republican primary. However, he could be the surprise candidate.
Mullin is capable of running a statewide campaign. He showed his political reach when he was elected in 2012.
Two other state Republicans that could consider running; but with the short window, it is unlikely that Speaker T. W. Shannon or Gov. Mary Fallin would jump in the race.
Shannon is an up-and-comer, but timing is a key issue. He and Fallin are both in the throws of budget wrestling with the next legislative session set to begin next month.
However, Attorney General Scott Pruitt has made national headlines with his challenges of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), as well as the ruling that the state’s ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional. He has broad statewide support like Lankford.
Overall, it looks like Lankford, Pruitt or Bridenstine could be the ones to fight for the seat.
On the Democratic side, the names are familiar ones. Of those that might make a run, only one currently is in office.
Claremore’s own — Sen. Sean Burrage — is the state’s top Democrat. Last year, he announced he would not seek another term. The state could do no better to have someone with sound and reasonable judgment serve them in D.C.
Burrage would be a great choice, but it is unlikely he would jump in the throws of such a race.
Among the others; consider former Gov. Brad Henry, former Lt. Gov. Jeri Askins, former Rep. Dan Boren and former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.
Would Oklahomans consider re-tread candidates? Maybe. Maybe not.
Henry recently became a shareholder and director in a Tulsa debt collection firm. Last fall, there was much speculation that Henry might challenge Gov. Fallin for his old job. He chose not to make that run. But, the senate seat might just be enticing enough to get him into the race.
As for Askins and Boren, one lost in their bid for the governor and the other chose not to seek re-election to Congress.
Given the political climate in Oklahoma, Henry, Askins or Boren might make a strong run, but I am not sure they could win.
Taylor is regrouping from a lost to incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett. She spent more than $3 million to regain the seat she walked away from in 2009. She would be a formidable candidate for the Democrats.
Taylor is a strong leader for education, economic development and business. After her stint as Tulsa’s mayor, she served as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Commerce, working to bring companies to the state and increase jobs. She understands business and politics. Taylor is a tireless campaigner. So, do not underestimate her if she runs for the senate seat.
So on the Republican side of the aisle, look for Lankford, Pruitt or even Bridenstine to announce. Among the Democrats, it could be Taylor or Henry who want to break the Republican stronghold on national office holders.
The election cycle will be much more interesting with these candidates in the race for Coburn’s seat.
Randy Cowling is editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.