Has Inhofe decided it's time to leave Senate?
Barack Obama in the White House and a slender Republican Senate majority in play helped shape Sen. Jim Inhofe’s decision to seek re-election six years ago. Now, after 26 years in the Senate (and, before that, eight in the House), is the 85-year-old Inhofe ready to call it quits?
That seems unlikely, but we’ll find out soon. Media outlets in Washington reported last week that while speaking with reporters, Inhofe said he would make an announcement March 6.
If he runs again, Inhofe, R-Tulsa, will almost certainly win handily again, as he has in each of his four campaigns since winning a special election following David Boren’s mid-term retirement in 1994. But personal concerns may carry the day and prompt Inhofe to decide he’s had enough.
In January, Inhofe’s wife of 60 years, Kay, had a mild stroke, prompting him to leave Washington before senators were sworn in for President Trump’s impeachment trial and before a vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. Last year, Kay Inhofe needed hospitalization and months of therapy after breaking a leg in an accident.
Inhofe felt it important in 2014 to stick around to continue fighting Obama’s policy proposals, particularly those relating to military spending and environmental regulations. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, many of those regulations have been rolled back and Inhofe, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has helped move military spending in the opposite direction.
Republicans have a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, meaning Democrats must win a handful of seats this year to assume control. Of the 34 seats on the ballot, 22 are held by Republicans. Several of the GOP seats are deemed “worth watching” by election wonks.
Inhofe’s seat is not one of those — and wouldn’t be if he did retire. Oklahoma voters haven’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since Boren’s last victory in 1990.
Inhofe’s departure, if it happens, would cost the state its most ardent and powerful champion of the military. Inhofe is an expert on U.S. military missions, the result of his traveling the world to visit our armed forces, and has helped keep Oklahoma’s five installations open and thriving.
His departure also would remove from the Senate its foremost skeptic of scientific studies regarding manmade global warming. Inhofe famously called it a “hoax,” earning the ridicule of environmentalists and others intent on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.
Inhofe hasn’t slowed down much, despite emergency heart surgery in 2013 to fix extreme blockages in five arteries. He keeps a packed schedule away from Washington, and still pilots his small aircraft when barnstorming across Oklahoma.
Inhofe was coy about his future during an interview with The Oklahoman in August. “I’m just going to play with the hand that’s dealt me,” Inhofe said.
On Friday, we’ll find out whether he’s folding that hand in favor of retirement with his wife and family in Tulsa.