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Coburn’s decision triggers second Senate election in the state this fall
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma says he will leave office at the end of the year, triggering an election in November for the remaining two years of his term.
Coburn, 65, has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer. But he said in a statement that “this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires.”
“My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms,” said Coburn, who was elected to the Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010. “Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career.”
“I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”
Because Coburn is staying until the end of the year, his replacement will be selected by the voters, rather than by gubernatorial appointment.
The state’s other Senate seat, held by Republican James Inhofe, is also up for election in 2014. Inhofe is seeking a fourth full term.
Coburn’s decision will likely set off a scramble among Republicans for his seat. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole of Moore, James Lankford of Oklahoma City and Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa are being mentioned, as is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
Given Oklahoma’s Republican tendencies, a Democratic pickup of Coburn’s seat would seem unlikely. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Sooner State since 1990.
Coburn was an obstetrician in Muskogee when he entered politics by capturing a U.S. House seat in the Republican wave of 1994, winning in the 2nd District, which at the time was a Democratic bastion in the northeast corner of the state.
In 1997, he was part of a group of conservative House Republicans that led an ultimately unsuccessful coup to oust then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, earning him the ire of many GOP colleagures.
He didn’t seek re-election in 1998, abiding by a pledge he made to serve no more than two terms.
In 2000, Coburn returned to politics by winning U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Don Nickles and was easily re-elected in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote. He had already said he would not run again in 2016 because of his self-imposed two-term limit.
In the Senate, Coburn has been a determined foe of wasteful government spending. Each year, he publishes a Wastebook, which highlights the more “egregious” examples of federal pork.
Coburn has faced serious medical issues, starting with melanoma as a young man before he went to medical school. He has also had colon cancer and had a benign brain tumor removed in 2007.
In November, he disclosed that he was being treated for a recurrence of prostate cancer. In January, he told Politico that he felt he was still strong enough to finish out his term, despite undergoing chemotherapy, but that health issues might force him to leave early.