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January 19, 2014

Coburn’s exit may trigger GOP dominoes

OKLAHOMA CITY — 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.”

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