Oklahoma Senate Special: Inhofe Seat Added to 2022 Races

by Nathan L. Gonzales February 24, 2022 · 5:20 PM EST

It looks like there will be at least one additional Senate race in 2022. GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is leaving his seat before the end of his term, according to Jonathan Martin of The New York Times and confirmed by Jessica Taylor of The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter

Inhofe’s decision adds a race to the slate of 2022 races because he was not scheduled to be up for reelection this cycle The senator was just reelected in 2020 by 30 points. So this would be a special election to fill the remaining four years of his term. With the addition of Oklahoma, Republicans are defending 21 Senate seats compared to 14 seats currently held by Democrats. But the Oklahoma race won’t be added to the Senate battlefield that will decide the majority. 

Due to the timing of Inhofe’s announcement, and apparent plans to remain in Congress through the end of the year, there will be a special election but not an appointment by the governor.

An election for Oklahoma’s other Senate seat, held by Republican James Lankford, was already regularly scheduled for this fall.

Considering President Donald Trump's 33-point victory in 2020 and 36-point victory in 2016, and the high correlation between presidential results and how a state votes for the U.S. Senate, Republicans are not at risk of this seat falling into Democratic hands. Democrats have not won a Senate seat in Oklahoma since Democrat David Boren’s reelection in 1990. The special election, which will likely take place in November, will start with a Solid Republican rating. 

Inhofe, who is 87 years old, has served in the U.S. Senate since he was first elected in 1994. Previously, he served in the U.S. House, the Oklahoma state Senate and state House, and was mayor of Tulsa. 

The special election will attract plenty of interest from aspiring Republicans. Reps. Markwayne Mullin, Kevin Hern, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, former state Speaker T.W. Shannon (who lost to Lankford in the 2014 Senate special election primary), and wealthy attorney Gentner Drummond (who has been running for state attorney general) are all potential candidates. Martin also added former Inhofe chief of staff Luke Holland and former U.S. Attorney Trent Shores to the list. But more Republicans are likely to take a look as well.

Democrats have an exceedingly thin bench. The party’s one statewide elected official, superintendent of public instruction Joy Hofmeister, is running for governor. Former Rep. Kendra Horn lost her Oklahoma City-based swing seat in 2020, and former U.S. Attorney Drew Edmondson lost the 2018 gubernatorial race by 12 points, 54-42, despite a great national environment for Democrats and polls showing a close race. 2020 Senate nominee Abby Broyles is dealing with the fallout after she drunkenly berated a group of pre-teen girls at a sleepover.

The bottom line is that the race to watch will be for the GOP nomination.