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Edmondson to Forgo Oklahoma Senate Race

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) announced Wednesday that he will not run for Senate in 2004, a decision that elated Democrats immediately hailed as a boost to their prospects for electing the first Democratic Senator from the Sooner State in more than a decade.

Edmondson’s decision all but clears the field for Rep. Brad Carson, the lone Democrat in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation who announced last week that he is running for retiring Sen. Don Nickles’ (R) seat.

Although he said polling had shown that he could win the primary and the general election, Edmondson said he loved his current job too much to leave it behind.

“I can’t foresee any reasonable set of circumstances that would cause me to re-examine this race,” said Edmondson, who is in his third term as attorney general.

In announcing his decision at the state Capitol, Edmondson also endorsed Carson and said he would work to help him win. Carson represents the eastern Oklahoma House district once held by Edmondson’s father, Ed.

It became even more imperative for Democrats to avoid a costly primary after Republicans did just that last week, coalescing behind Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys.

Rep. Ernest Istook (R), who had once been considered certain to run if Nickles retired, changed course abruptly last week and announced he would not leave the House, although he has maintained that he was not pressured out of the race.

Democratic strategists on Wednesday characterized the anticipated showdown between Carson and Humphreys as a highly competitive contest, even though Republicans are given a slight edge in retaining the seat.

While Democrats had stated publicly the desire to avoid a primary next year, they maintained Wednesday that Edmondson’s decision was his alone and that the party had not brought to bear the same type of pressure they believe forced Istook not to run.

“We applaud Attorney General Edmondson for his service to the state of Oklahoma and to the Democratic Party,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse. “Had the Attorney General decided to enter the race for the U.S. Senate, the people of Oklahoma would have been blessed with two strong candidates in the Democratic primary, either of whom would make a great U.S. Senator for the people of Oklahoma. However, as it stands now, Congressman Carson can focus his energy on the general election battle ahead and Oklahoma Democrats can go forward united.”

Although the Sooner State is considered a lock for Republicans in presidential elections the state just elected a Democratic governor in 2002 and the party narrowly controls both houses of the state Legislature.

Carson pollster David Beattie said the likely matchup between Humphreys and Carson would be somewhat atypical because it pits a Republican with an urban base against a Democrat representing rural territory.

“I think that this sets up an interesting dynamic where you see a reverse from what you see typically,” Beattie said.

Humphreys is resigning his post to focus full time on the Senate run, and he announced this week that his last day in office would be Nov. 3. He was first elected mayor in 1998.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has agreed to serve as one of Humphreys’ campaign chairmen, and Nickles has also indicated he is backing the mayor.

Although Humphreys is heavily favored to win the nomination, he still faces a likely primary against state Sens. Jim Dunlap and Mike Fair, both of whom are considering running.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Tom Coburn (R) is also being mentioned among some social conservatives in the state as a potential alternative to Humphreys, who is viewed as a more pragmatic conservative. Coburn, an obstetrician, upheld a pledge to serve only three terms and retired in 2000. Carson won the race to succeed him.

The former lawmaker, who has since returned to private practice, declined an interview request to discuss the Senate race this week. A woman answering the phone at Coburn’s medical office said he had heard his name mentioned as a potential Senate candidate but “he’s had no response to that at all.”

Even with Edmondson out of the race, Carson may not escape a primary, albeit a noncompetitive one. Little-known Jim Rogers (D) has said he is running.

The only other Democratic name being mentioned is wealthy Tulsa businessman Don McCorkell. The former longtime state Representative has remained active in party politics, and earlier this month he hosted a Tulsa fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark.

McCorkell ran for Senate in 1996, losing the Democratic primary to Jim Boren, a cousin of former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.). Boren was defeated handily in the 1996 general election by Inhofe. But in contrast to the 1996 race, McCorkell now has the ability to donate sizeable personal funds to his campaign.

Still, strategists in both parties say the focus will remain on the two frontrunners.

“I think the most likely scenario at this point is mano a mano between Carson and Humphreys for the next nine months,” Beattie said.

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