Coburn's departure likely to trigger GOP dominoes

FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2013 file photo, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., left, walks with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., on the way to a procedural vote on a comprehensive defense bill as the Senate’s legislative year nears to a close, at the Capitol in Washington. Coburn's announcement late last week that he will forego his final two years in office means Oklahoma will not only have two US Senate races this year, it is expected to trigger a series of dominoes on the GOP side as politicians on the Sooner State's deep Republican bench mull a run. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's 2014 election cycle was thrown for a huge loop when U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn announced his early retirement last week. The move could knock over a series of dominoes in Oklahoma politics as some of state's most powerful GOP leaders mull jumping into the race.

What was expected to be an election season with few surprises among heavily favored entrenched Republican incumbents has suddenly morphed into a cycle that will have two U.S. Senate races, including the first open U.S. Senate seat in a decade, and possibly open U.S. House or statewide office seats depending upon who decides to run for the Senate.

"It could cause a cascade of different elections and open seats," said Gov. Mary Fallin, who was about the only Republican in Oklahoma to rule out a run for Coburn's seat. "It will be an exciting election year across Oklahoma, and that's how quickly things can change on the political scene in any state."

Fallin announced Friday that the dates for the special election to fill Coburn's seat will coincide with Oklahoma's regularly scheduled elections, a request Coburn made in his resignation letter so as not to impose any "undue burden on Oklahoma taxpayers."

The timing is significant because nearly any current officeholder who decides to run, including any U.S. House members, would have to give up their seat to do it, and thus trigger another open seat.

And while Republican leaders are optimistic about their ability to keep every statewide elected office and the entire congressional delegation in the GOP column, Democrats say they see a potential opportunity to retake some ground under the circumstances.

"There's a lot of possibilities. We'll just have to wait for the dust to clear," said Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins. "We certainly think we're going to have some openings, and we'll try hard to take advantage of them."

The filing dates for the office are in April, with a primary on June 24, runoff primary on Aug. 26, and the general election on Nov. 4.

"It's a political earthquake," said Lance Cargill, a former Republican Speaker of the House and now a GOP consultant. "The dominoes are going to be tremendous. It's going to create open seats all up and down the ballot."

Among the Republicans expected to mull a run are U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Tom Cole, James Lankford and Frank Lucas, along with Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Other rising GOP stars like House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, along with several state House and Senate members, are among those mentioned as potential congressional candidates, depending on who enters the race.

"Obviously, no small amount of intrigue surrounds who may jump into the race to succeed Dr. Coburn," said Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston. "But that the list of possible candidates is very long speaks to the deep bench of excellent leaders we have in the Republican Party in Oklahoma. There are literally dozens of possibilities."

As for Coburn's open Senate seat, the advantage easily falls to those who already have name recognition and a sizable campaign war chest, said Chad Alexander, a GOP strategist.

"You're three months away from filing and five months away from a primary. If you've already got money in the bank and name ID, that's going to be a huge advantage," Alexander said.


Sean Murphy can be reached at