Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Democrats to Challenge Inhofe?

When the reporter from "Congressional Quarterly" called yesterday I wasn't surprised. The "buzz" about the possible retirement or defeat of US Senator Jim Inhofe and the consequent "roar" about who the Democrats will put up to face him has been growing.

I was approached in early February about identifying a candidate to challenge Inhofe. At that time the big names were Gov. Brad Henry, Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and Congressman Dan Boren. All three have previously and recently stated they have jobs to complete and projects to work on, but admittedly, you never say never in this business, and they are the political "heavyweights" in the state.

Recently, two Oklahoma State Senators names have been added to the possible Senate race list --- Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City and Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau. A supporter put up a "draft Andrew" website recently and Corn made the rounds of three district conventions last Saturday. I spoke with both of them yesterday and know both have strong interest in the possibility. Another name that is circulating is that of Oklahoma County Commissioner Jim Roth, although I understand he's very interested in the Oklahoma Corporation Commission spot being vacated by Denise Bode at the end of this month.

To read the story from Congressional Quarterly posted last evening click the CQ link or the read more label below.

Oklahoma Democrats Cultivate Rice as Possible Foe to Sen. Inhofe By Rachel Kapochunas | 6:21 PM; May. 01, 2007 |

Despite the long- and strong-running Republican trend in conservative-leaning Oklahoma, Democrats argue that Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe is vulnerable for his 2008 bid for re-election in that state.

In justifying their optimism, Democratic activists point to Inhofe’s penchant for blunt remarks — including his strongly worded skepticism about global warming as a threat to mankind. They also note Inhofe’s steadfast support for the war in Iraq and President Bush, both subjects of widespread voter dissatisfaction.

So far, the best-known potential Democratic challengers have opted out of the contest, perhaps wary of taking on an entrenched Republican incumbent in a state where Democrats last won a Senate race in 1990, hold just one of the five House seats and saw their 2004 presidential nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, take just 34 percent of the vote to 66 percent for Bush.

Among the Democrats who are not inclined to challenge Inhofe are Gov. Brad Henry, the conservative Democrat whose victories for governor in 2002 and 2006 make him the party’s biggest recent success story in Oklahoma; and 2nd District Rep. Dan Boren, the state’s sole House Democrat and son of former Democratic Sen. David L. Boren. The elder Boren won the 1990 Senate race for the Democrats, and his 1994 resignation to become president of the University of Oklahoma created the vacancy that Inhofe filled by winning the special election held that November.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Lisa Pryor said Tuesday that the names of state Attorney General Drew Edmondson and state Sen. Kenneth Corn have been floated as possible candidates, but neither has taken any affirmative steps toward running.

So the party has begun rallying behind the possible — though uncertain — candidacy of 34-year-old Democratic state Sen. Andrew Rice, whom Pryor called an “up-and-coming big name” in Oklahoma.

Pryor told that Rice is attracting the “attention of more Democrats than any of the other potential candidates at this time.” Pryor added that the race is still in its preliminary stages, but said that Rice is “more than halfway there” in terms of a campaign. She also noted the “nationwide network” he tapped into for support in his successful 2006 state Senate race.

Supporters launched a Web site,, to encourage Rice to wage a campaign against Inhofe in 2008. The Web site lauds Rice as a candidate who “has the right blend of real-world experience and leadership Oklahoma needs.”

Rice earned a master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard University’s Divinity School and has produced documentaries on AIDS in India.

He is the founder of the nonprofit Progressive Alliance Foundation in Oklahoma City and is active with the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. He told on Tuesday that he was prompted to get involved in politics after his brother David was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

Rice said that as far as a U.S. Senate campaign is concerned, he is “not ruling it out and not deciding to do it either.” Rice confirmed that he spoke with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York at an event in Dallas recently and has been assessing “the landscape.”

Rice said that as a newly elected state senator, he does not have major statewide name identification, and added that he might be prompted to pass up the race if one of the “formidable” candidates not currently in the running decides to get in.

“The biggest issue for me is my wife is a professional, a physician, and we have a two-year-old and a three-month-old,” Rice said. “It would just be quite a big sacrifice for my family . . . for what would be a pretty tough race.”

Inhofe automatically holds the advantage of incumbency, which translates into high name recognition and extensive support from state and congressional allies. Inhofe started April with nearly $1 million on hand in his campaign treasury, according to his first-quarter report filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Inhofe also has a long history of public service in the state as a former House member (1987-94), mayor of Tulsa (1978-84), and member of the state House and Senate. Inhofe last won re-election in 2002 with a 21 percentage-point margin over Democratic former Gov. David L. Walters, whose campaign suffered from controversies over past campaign finance improprieties.

Inhofe’s conservative positions have drawn the support not only of his constituents, but he is frequently lauded by organizations such as the American Conservative Union, the National Rifle Association and the Club for Growth.

His supporters also rally to his combative nature. Inhofe has made headlines in the past for his assertive manner, including his 2003 statement that “man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Inhofe plays up this reputation in a video on his campaign Web site “One man in America still has the courage to speak out. The courage to go against the tide. Until eventually, the tide is proven wrong,” the video text reads. The video contains images of former Vice President Al Gore, an environmental activist who is at the other end of the spectrum from Inhofe on global warming.

But Democrat Pryor, whether intentionally or not, dealt a global warming metaphor in describing why she thinks Oklahomans might vote for change in the 2008 Senate race.

“The climate is changing, politics is changing,” Pryor said. “I don’t think that America’s satisfied with the leadership of the Bush administration, and as far as I’m concerned, Inhofe is part of that.”

Inhofe also has an announced challenger for next year’s Republican primary in businessman Stephen P. Wallace, who has established a campaign committee with the FEC but had yet to report any funds for his campaign as of March 31.

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