Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said recently that state Sen. Andrew Rice (D) might surprise the prognosticators in his upstart bid to oust Sen. James Inhofe (R) in 2008.
But an old hand at Sooner State politics, former Republican Rep. J.C. Watts, discounted the notion that Inhofe faces any sort of real threat next year. Watts, the former House GOP Conference chairman, said Oklahoma is still a Republican-leaning state and added that Inhofe is a tough campaigner who remains popular at home.
“Jim’s going to be fine,” Watts told Roll Call. “He’s a seasoned vet, he knows Oklahoma … I’d be shocked if the [DSCC] chose to spend gobs of money there.”
If the DSCC’s large cash advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee continues into the home stretch of the 2008 campaign, Oklahoma’s relatively inexpensive media markets could make spending money on Rice an attractive proposition for Schumer.
Perhaps foreshadowing that such a move could be in the offing, Schumer last week at his first news conference this cycle on the 2008 elections mentioned Rice by name and told reporters that the Oklahoma Democrat might turn some heads next year.
Rice was one of the few second-tier Democratic challengers Schumer mentioned during the news conference.
“State Sen. Rice in Oklahoma is a good candidate. He’s going to surprise people,” Schumer said. “We’re working on states which we normally would not spend too much time focusing on, because we think it could be a big change year.”
However, there is no evidence to suggest that Inhofe is vulnerable, or that politics in Oklahoma has shifted to create an opening for Rice. The Democrat also has some catching up to do on the fundraising front, as Inhofe closed the third quarter of the year with $1.7 million in his campaign coffers, compared with a paltry $260,000 for Rice.
Watts said Inhofe is a tough campaigner and more than prepared for a fight if it comes to that, but he added that he doubts the Oklahoma Senate race will end up in play.
“That’s not [a race] that I think the Democrats will use to grow their numbers in the Senate,” Watts said.
— David M. Drucker