The battle between the two major party candidates vying to represent Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate for the next six years may appear, on the surface, to be a simple choice between youth and experience, but there is much more to it.
Indeed, the difference in their ages and years of political experience could not be more stark. The incumbent, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, has now been in Congress for almost 34 years, the last 26 of those in the Senate. No Oklahoman has served longer in Washington or served at a more advanced age, 85, than Inhofe.
His Democratic challenger, Abby Broyles, on the other hand, is 30, the minimum age required for election to the U.S. Senate. Broyles is an Oklahoma City attorney with a decade of experience as a journalist but has never run for political office until now.
Beyond these obvious differences, the two stand far apart on many of the significant issues facing elected officials right now.
Traditionally, vigorously contested races like this one include one or more debates, where voters can more easily grasp how the candidates' positions and philosophies vary. In this, race, however, Sen. Inhofe has declined or ignored all invitations to debate Broyles.
Sen. Inhofe believes a debate in this race is unnecessary:
"There isn't one person in the state of Oklahoma who doesn't know where I stand on every single issue," Inhofe explained in a recent interview.
Asked why voters shouldn't get to refresh their understanding of his positions and see him respond to questions in real time, Inhofe said, "[T]hey see me every day. Let them--I think they're in a position to make that judgment."
The Broyles campaign said Inhofe has not even responded to their multiple invitations to debate.
"Jim Inhofe doesn't want to debate because he's no longer up for the job," stated Broyles in an interview. "He knows that if we were to stand side by side and have a debate and talk about the issues, where we stand on them and what our plans are for Oklahoma, he would show that he's no longer up for the job to be our U.S. Senator.”
Fortunately, our recent one-on-one interviews with Inhofe and Broyles allow for a debate-style comparison of the positions on key issues, as well as, their reasons for running in the first place.
"Well, I have a number of reasons," Sen. Inhofe started, "but the main thing is what happened during the Obama administration."
This is a frequent talking point for Inhofe, asserting that President Obama downgraded the military by cutting defense spending at the same time that Russia and China increased theirs. Under President Trump, funding for the DoD has steadily increased.
"So that's the first thing -- I wanted to finish what we started, and I have to tell you that President Trump has done a great job," Inhofe said.
Inhofe said the second reason he opted to run for a sixth term is so he can remain a strong voice for federal spending on roads and bridges:
"The highway bill is going to expire at the end of this fiscal year," Inhofe explained. "There's still some money to carry through, [and] we want to make sure of the continuity."
And Sen. Inhofe said there is one other reason he's running, "My wife [Kay] wanted me to...she said. 'I think we just need to do this and finish everything that we started.' So that's why I'm doing it."
For Broyles, the motivation is not about unfinished business, but, she said, a new way of doing the people's business:
"I saw firsthand a lack of leadership in D.C. and someone who wasn't representing everyday Oklahomans," Broyles said.
Broyles said her years working in local news (which include an internship and a year of employment at News 9) put her in direct contact, on a daily basis, with Oklahoma families.
"I know what keeps them up at night, know the struggles they face," she said. "[And] in 2020, in these extraordinary times, people are hurting, and they tell me time and time again, the lack of leadership has almost been as scary as the pandemic itself."
Broyles said, now more than ever, Oklahoma needs new a new voice in Washington -- someone who understands the realities Oklahomans are facing.
"I deeply love this state, and felt like I could do more, so that's why I decided to run," Broyles said.
Where Do They Stand On: The government's response to COVID-19
Abby Broyles: "Back in January, Senator Inhofe knew how bad this pandemic would be, he was briefed on it -- the death toll likely to result, the economic tailspin we'd face, and he was calling it a hoax. He was joking with a reporter about shaking hands and not taking precautions against the coronavirus...We have people in D.C., politicians mandating kids go back to school with no plan; there's been a complete lack of leadership during this entire year throughout the pandemic."
Jim Inhofe: "Keep in mind, this has never happened before, and this is something that's brand new. There are still people out there that think this is not as serious as it is. But it is serious, so I think we're doing the right things...I sit here and I look at the Democrats all trying to blame Trump for this, this problem that's worldwide, and he's handling it, I think, quite well."
Where Do They Stand On: The racial justice movement and the Black Lives Matter protests
Jim Inhofe: "Back during all of the problems that they had in Oregon, and I was on the [Senate] floor speaking about that because they had terrorists coming through in Portland, Oregon and doing things that terrorists do. They were burning buildings, they were using clubs, they were using fire bombs...and yet they were applauded by the elected leaders of Oregon...and I thought, you know, this is still America...for some reason, it was vogue for them, for the elected leaders to coddle the terrorists that were tearing up their city. I don't understand that."
Abby Broyles: "I don't support dismantling police departments, absolutely not, but we have to have these conversations and my opponent won't even say, Black Lives Matter. I will. I believe they do, and I believe that we are long overdue in this country to make strides in this area."
Where Do They Stand On: The Trump tax cuts
Abby Broyles: "Middle class families in Oklahoma have not benefitted from those tax cuts. It helped the wealthy families stay wealthy and it kept the middle class families struggling. Too many families have been left behind."
Jim Inhofe: "Prior to this big problem that hit us, our economy was the best economy of my lifetime. Now that was due primarily to -- yes, the support he's getting from us -- but the president. And people need to understand this. In fact, I'm the first one to admit when you talk about lowering your tax rates, that was a Democrat idea."
Where Do They Stand On: Gun control/Second Amendment
Jim Inhofe: "I've been singled out by the National Rifle Association in years past as being, you know, on their best list that they have. So, it's there, it's real, and I believe it, I believe in the Second Amendment."
Abby Broyles: "I'm supportive of the Second Amendment and responsible gun ownership, but I believe if you have a violent history, you should have to undergo a background check to get a gun. I support closing the loophole that allows domestic abusers to legally have a gun. That is not fair to their victims...I support gun ownership, but we also have to have laws on the books to make sure that our parents feel some sense of comfort dropping their kids off at school every morning. Right now, so many parents worry about dropping their kids off whether they're going to come home that afternoon.
Where Do They Stand On: Legalizing recreational use of marijuana
Abby Broyles: "I think the people of Oklahoma should vote on that. I think that when it is on the ballot, the state of Oklahoma will speak up. I think that medical marijuana was a smart choice. A lot of people use medical marijuana for medicinal use, and it provides relief that traditional medications don't...On the federal level, I support decriminalizing marijuana. Right now, it is still a schedule one drug on the same level as heroin. If we reduce it to a schedule four drug, that would release some low-level drug offenders who have a felony still on their record."
Jim Inhofe: "I'm opposed to it...They've already [legalized medical marijuana] and I would have opposed that at the time that they made that decision."
Where Do They Stand On: Foreign policy, and specifically the threat posed by Russia
Jim Inhofe: "Russia is bad. They don't like us; they want to eliminate us. They'll do everything they can, and for the freedom-loving people around who reaped the benefits of Ronald Reagan all those years, they're the ones that we are concerned about."
Abby Broyles: "Right now I think Russia is the greatest threat because we know they're trying to interfere with our elections. We are so close to November and that is the greatest threat we have right now."
Where Do They Stand On: Leaving the Paris Climate accord, and climate change in general
Jim Inhofe: "We are interested in in doing what we need to do for the environment, but not with some of the extremists out there who have the very expensive programs that no one can afford. And I think that's one of the better things that the president did is getting us out of that...The world is not coming to an end...but there are people who really want to believe it."
Abby Broyles: "Unlike Jim Inhofe, I believe climate change is real, and it's my generation that's going to fix it. We have to start now to fight the adverse effects of climate change, when it comes to carbon emissions, looking at the oil and gas industry, but making sure we have people from the industry at the table when we're making decisions so it doesn't devastate our economy here."
Where Do They Stand On: Age
(Senator Inhofe will be 86 in November; he stills flies his airplane and says he feels great, but another 6-year term would make him 92 at the end of the term)
Abby Broyles: "I think it's less about Senator Inhofe's age and more about his ability to do the job. If he were showing up every day and not missing votes and not missing meetings, it wouldn't be a problem. But the problem is he's not showing up for Oklahomans anymore and that's why we need a senator who will."
Jim Inhofe: "This is something that is fair game and it's being used by the opponents that I have, and that's fine...I think it's something that's turning off a lot of people by saying just because you reach a certain age, you are not competent to do things that you know you're competent to do. People are not the same. There are people who are old at 60, there are people that are old at 50. So, I think this is a great thing, for the people to look at me and decide whether or not...the age should be a factor."
If he's re-elected Sen. Inhofe would remain the fourth oldest member of the Senate. (Sens. Feinstein, Grassley and Shelby are all about a year older.) If Broyles pulls off the upset, on the other hand, she would become the youngest member of the Senate (at least, among current members), by almost ten years.