Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R) resignation statement last week saying he will leave Washington at the end of 2014 has predictably begun a political chess game. Under Oklahoma election law, a vacant Senate seat is filled by special election and not through gubernatorial appointment. Furthermore, the law allows a sitting office holder to pledge to resign at a future date and hold a replacement special election even though the affected member remains in office. In this situation, Coburn’s timing allows the state to fill the upcoming vacancy in the 2014 regular election.
Yesterday, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK-5) released a two-minute video campaign announcement entering the special Senate election in hopes of filling the remaining two years of Coburn’s unexpired term. While the Oklahoma City congressman firmly jumped into the race, Gov. Mary Fallin (R), Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-4) all stated in equally unequivocal fashion that they will keep their current positions.
Other names that continue to be discussed as potential Senate candidates are Republicans Todd Lamb, the state’s lieutenant governor, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK-1), and House Speaker T.W. Shannon. Former Gov. Brad Henry, ex-Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK-2), and former Attorney General Drew Edmondson are the Democratic names regularly being mentioned, but it is probable that none of these men will actually run.
This race is likely to be decided in the Republican nomination process. With Rep. Lankford jumping out to a decisive start, and other key Republicans already declining to run, it is possible that the congressman could quickly become the front runner.
With Lankford running for the Senate, yet another House district has opened. The 5th District of Oklahoma will now be the 32nd open seat in the 2014 cycle. He is the 20th Republican not to seek re-election to the House as compared to 12 Democratic members.
The congressman was elected in 2010 when former Rep. Mary Fallin vacated the district to run successfully for governor. Seven Republicans entered the succeeding open seat primary, including Lankford and then-state Rep. Kevin Calvey, along with five others. Lankford and Calvey advanced to the run-off election with each man securing about one-third of the primary vote. In the run-off, Lankford, the first-time candidate, scored a 65-35 percent win. He then went on to easily win the general election later that year and in 2012.
We can expect a similar number of people running for the vacated House seat in 2014. In fact, with Lankford’s announcement yesterday, already two Republicans, Patrice Douglas, the Oklahoma corporation commissioner, and state Sen. Clark Jolley say they will run. Three Democrats, none of whom are expected to be major competitors, also declared themselves as congressional candidates.
OK-5 contains the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and then travels southeast to add the communities of Shawnee, Tecumseh, and Seminole. The 5th is safely Republican, notching identical 59.2 percent scores for the Republican presidential nominee in both 2012 and 2008. The last Democrat to represent this district was Rep. John Jarman who was elected in 1950 and served through 1974, switching to the Republican Party in 1975 for one final term.