The race for retiring Senator Jim Inhofe’s coveted seat is getting more crowded -- at least on the Republican side -- as former Speaker of the Oklahoma House T.W. Shannon formally launched his campaign Thursday afternoon at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.
The 87-year-old Inhofe, first elected to the Senate in a special election in 1994 and recently re-elected to a fifth full term in 2020, announced two weeks ago he would not finish out his current term and instead call it quits at the conclusion of the current Congress on January 3, 2023.
The announcement, coming before March 1, set in motion another special election for the seat, with the primaries and general election taking place on dates already set for what is a normal election year in Oklahoma.
This week, however, Enid attorney Stephen Jones sought to keep the election from going forward, filing a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Election Board and arguing that the state's action violates the 17th Amendment.
Jones, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1990, said there can't be a special election to fill a vacancy until the seat is officially vacant.
As the legal challenge plays out, the seat continues to attract serious and significant interest, especially from Republicans, in the decidedly red state. The last time a Democrat won a U.S. Senate election was, in fact, 1990, when David Boren beat Jones.
First to announce his candidacy — at the same news conference that Inhofe announced his retirement— was longtime Inhofe aide and Bartlesville native Luke Holland.
The 35-year-old Holland resigned as Inhofe’s chief of staff so that he could launch his candidacy. Inhofe gave Holland his endorsement.
Five-term Congressman Markwayne Mullin, whose 2nd District encompasses much of eastern Oklahoma, was also quick to throw his hat in the ring.
“I’ve never been one to chase a title,” Rep. Mullin in an interview last week. “I’ve never backed away from a fight in my life, but sometimes when you’re in a fight, you’ve got to reposition, too, [and] we felt like we were best served at this point in time and our service to the state to reposition ourselves in the Senate. We feel like that’s where we can best serve the state of Oklahoma, serve this country.”
Mullin said he’s “all in.” His House colleague Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK1), also from eastern Oklahoma, has been frequently mentioned as a possible candidate but has yet to make a decision one way or the other.
“It’s been overwhelming the amount of people that have called us from across the state and asked us to consider running,” Hern said in an interview. “And I have to weigh that with what we’ve already accomplished so far in the House, being on [the House] Ways and Means [Committee]. My wife and I are praying about it every single day.”
Republican State Senator Nathan Dahm has also announced he's running for the seat, as is former Trump administration official Alex Gray.
Other members of the state's congressional delegation are saying “no thanks.”
"I was a freshman in high school, I was a freshman in college, I was a freshman state legislator, I was a freshman in Congress," said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK3), "I don’t wanna be a freshman again."