Veteran Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe (R), who turned 87 years of age last November, is reportedly set to announce that he will leave the Senate at the end of this year.
He was first elected in 1994 after serving four terms in the US House and six years as Mayor of Tulsa prior to coming to Congress.
The Senator is expected to sign an irrevocable resignation letter before March 1. If so, he will serve until the end of this year and a special election to replace him will be held concurrently with the 2022 election cycle. His resignation is unexpected, and the reason for his departure has not yet been publicized.
Under the Sooner State special election laws, if a vacancy in the Senate occurs in an even numbered year, the seat is filled within the regular election schedule. An odd-numbered year vacancy has its own election formula. Oklahoma is one of 13 states that doesn’t fill a Senate vacancy through gubernatorial appointment.
The regular political schedule calls for a primary on June 28, an August 23 runoff if no candidate receives majority support in the first vote, and the general election on November 8. The candidate filing deadline is April 15th.
The Inhofe resignation also means that both of the state’s Senate seats will be up for election this Autumn since Sen. James Lankford* (R) is in-cycle. The special election winner will serve the remaining four years of the Inhofe term and be eligible to run for a full six-year stint in 2026.
While the new Oklahoma Senate race brings the total number of federal statewide campaigns to 35, with Republicans now defending 21, this contest won’t likely alter the aggregate political picture. The GOP should remain safe in both of the Oklahoma general election contests.
The special Republican primary, however, will be a different story. Expect a crowded field and a tough primary campaign and likely runoff, with the eventual winner having an easy ride in the general election.
Already rumors are flying as to who may run in the special. Names from Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Mark Pinnell to US Reps. Kevin Hern (R-Tulsa) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Westville) to former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon and ex-US Attorney Trent Shore are already being mentioned.
Others who might consider the race are three term-limited statewide officials, state Treasurer Randy McDaniel, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, and State Corporation Commission member Dana Murphy. None of them have a place to run this year, thus having little to lose should they jump into the open special.
State Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) is challenging Sen. Lankford in the GOP primary, but it is probable that he will move over to the open race since his chances of denying the incumbent re-nomination are low.
Should any or all of the aforementioned make the race, political musical chairs will begin. Since this special election is being run under the regular calendar, the candidates will have to risk their current positions to run. Therefore, should any of the US House members enter, for example, we will see additional open House seat campaigns beginning.
Should Gov. Stitt decide to run for the Senate, it is likely that the preponderance of political activity and attention would then turn toward an open Governor’s race.
Sen. Inhofe’s resignation and a new special election is one more unexpected political happening in this midterm election cycle. With the Texas primary coming Tuesday, the political show is about to commence in earnest.
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