With no major league candidate willing to suit up and challenge Sen. James Inhofe (R) this year, Oklahoma Democrats called up state Sen. Andrew Rice from their farm system and are now hoping for a breakthrough.
[IMGCAP(1)]It’s not as though the Sooner State lacks proven Democratic politicians with the chops to take on Inhofe. Gov. Brad Henry (D), for one, handily won a second term in 2006 and has been relatively popular throughout his tenure.
But neither he nor state Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) appear to want the job. Edmondson has privately expressed interest in running, but has thus far declined. However, some Democrats believe the next cycle could see him, and several other Democrats, make a move for higher office.
“I think 2010 is going to be really interesting,” predicted one Democratic strategist based in Oklahoma.
Although Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has expressed confidence in Rice, Inhofe remains a heavy favorite to win re-election in conservative-leaning Oklahoma. Inhofe closed 2007 with a solid cash lead over Rice, banking $1.9 million to his Democratic opponent’s $293,000.
Among those Democrats who could seek a Senate seat in 2010 are Henry, Edmondson, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and state Treasurer Scott Meacham. Rep. Dan Boren, the lone Democrat representing Oklahoma in the House — and the son of former Sen. and Gov. David Boren (D) — also is mentioned as a potential Senate candidate.
On the Republican side, former state Sen. Scott Pruitt, who is co-owner of Oklahoma City’s minor league baseball team, could be drafted should either Inhofe or Sen. Tom Coburn (R) ever vacate their seats. Rep. Mary Fallin, a former lieutenant governor, also could be enticed to run, as she has previously won four statewide races.
State GOP Chairman Gary Jones also might make a run. Jones ran for state auditor twice and lost both races. Additional potential Republican Senate candidates include state Rep. Randy Terrill and state Sen. Randy Brogdon.
Terrill received a good deal of publicity recently from a bill he authored that dealt with illegal immigration, and according to one Sooner State GOP strategist, might look to “parlay” that into a Senate run.
Oklahoma’s five House seats are overwhelmingly Republican save for Boren’s 2nd district, which is solid Democratic territory.
In the 1st district, Rep. John Sullivan (R) looks secure in his bid for a fifth term. But in the event he ever vacates his seat, several Republicans could bid to replace him, just as happened last cycle in the 5th district when a crowded primary ensued to succeed then-Rep. Ernest Istook (R).
Potential 1st district Republican candidates include Pruitt, Brogdon and former state Rep. Hopper Smith, a colonel in the Oklahoma National Guard who has served in Afghanistan.
In the 3rd district, Rep. Frank Lucas (R) also is secure. But waiting in the wings are state Sen. Owen Laughlin, the GOP floor leader, and Todd Hiatt, who was the first Republican state Speaker in more than 80 years before he was termed out of office.
The 4th district is held by National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole. With Cole campaigning to win a spot on the House Appropriations Committee, it doesn’t appear that he has designs on going anywhere anytime soon.
But should he ever vacate his seat, a number of Republicans could angle to replace him, most notably state Sen. Jonathan Nichols.
In the 5th district, which Fallin won in 2006, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R) could choose to make another run at it should the Congresswoman ever move up or move out. Fallin defeated Cornett in a summer 2006 runoff for this seat, which Istook vacated to run for governor.
Former state Rep. Kevin Calvey (R), who also ran for the open 5th district seat in 2006 with the backing of the Club for Growth but lost in the primary, could also make another run.
The Oklahoma-based Democratic strategist acknowledged that there are few top-tier Democrats, if any, to challenge Republicans in the four GOP-leaning House seats.
But Boren’s 2nd district is a Democratic stronghold, and there could be heavy competition among Democrats for his seat should the the Congressman ever retire or run for a different office.
“It’s a tough district for us to field a strong candidate,” the GOP strategist said of the 2nd district.
Among those Democrats who could be interested in running should the opportunity arise are state Sens. Kenneth Corn and Jay Paul Gumm. Both have privately expressed an interest in running, should the seat ever open up, according to the Democratic strategist.
Also seen as potential candidates are state Rep. John Carey (D) and attorney Peter Reagan, who ran for lieutenant governor against Askins and acquitted himself admirably despite losing.