Oklahoma Republicans are confident they can retain the seat of Sen. Tom Coburn, who announced on Friday he will resign from office at the end of this session of Congress, triggering a special election for his seat in 2014.
"What this means is that Democrats in Oklahoma have to find sacrificial lambs for two Senate races next year instead of just one," former Oklahoma Rep. and 2006 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ernest Istook told Newsmax.
The near-unanimous forecast from Republicans in the Sooner State is that they will have as easy a time winning the race for the remaining two years of Coburn's term as they will re-electing 20-year Sen. Jim Inhofe, who will be on the same ballot as the eventual GOP nominee for Coburn's seat.
With the filing deadline coming up in April, Republicans are expected to make decisions rapidly on whether to run in the June 24 special election primary. Almost all of the state's five U.S. representatives have been mentioned as contenders for the race.
But privately, party activists expect that the two powerful veterans in the House delegation — Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole — will not risk their political clout on a Senate race.
The likeliest scenario, Oklahoma sources tell Newsmax, is a primary between the state's two most junior House members: two-termer James Lankford, a favorite of cultural conservatives, and freshman Jim Bridenstine, an aviator in the U.S. Navy reserve and hero of the tea party movement.
Both are classic political outsiders with solidly conservative records. Lankford and Bridenstine had never held office before they upset more-established politicians to win Republican nominations in the 4th and 1st Districts respectively.
Lankford, manager of the Fall Creek camp for Christian youth, defeated several office-holders to win his first nomination to Congress in 2010. Two years ago, Bridenstine came out of nowhere to run as an unabashed tea partier and deposed five-term Rep. John Sullivan in the primary.
One intriguing factor in the race is geography.
Where Bridenstine comes from Tulsa, Lankford is from the area around Oklahoma City. Much of the state's business community is in Tulsa and it has sent several of its sons to the Senate, including incumbent Sen. Inhofe. The last senator to come from the capital city of Oklahoma City was Democrat A.S. "Mike" Monroney, who served from 1956-68.
Also mentioned for the Republican nomination is state Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who won an upset in the 2010 primary with the endorsement of Mike Huckabee. Pruitt has since won high marks on the right by launching spirited legal suits against Obamacare in court.
The only Democrat mentioned for the special election is Brad Henry, who served as governor from 2002-10.
"He was an early backer of Barack Obama for president," former State Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode told Newsmax. "When you look at how low Obama's ratings are in our state now, that should give you an idea of his chances — or those of any other Democrat."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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