OKLAHOMA CITY — Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford announced his candidacy Monday for the U.S. Senate seat left open by Sen. Tom Coburn who said last week he would resign the post at the end of this congressional session.
Lankford told The Associated Press he wanted to press for "conservative solutions that most Americans believe in."
"We're facing serious issues," Lankford said. "We can either complain about it or try to step in and solve it."
A longtime director of a youth summer camp, Lankford was a political unknown when he emerged from a crowded Republican primary field in 2010 to win the U.S. House seat. He won re-election in 2012 and was the only member of Oklahoma's House delegation to not face a GOP primary opponent that year.
The decision by Coburn, who is battling a recurrence of cancer, to resign the seat two years early has turned a somewhat predictable election year in Oklahoma on its head. The special election will coincide with the regular election cycle in 2014, meaning there will be two U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in Oklahoma as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe seeks re-election.
It's the first time since 2004 that Oklahoma has had an open Senate seat, and Republicans will be heavily favored to maintain it. Oklahoma has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since David Boren in 1978. Among Democrats expected to consider the race are former Gov. Brad Henry, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anaotubby.
Other Republicans expected to consider running for the open Senate seat are U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, and state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.
On Sunday, Attorney General Scott Pruitt and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., both said they would not run for Coburn's seat. Gov. Mary Fallin has also said she won't run for the seat.
The timing of the special election means most officeholders who run for the seat, including Lankford, will have to resign their current posts. His announcement is expected to trigger another wave of candidates seeking to replace him.
Lankford also has the advantage of a hefty campaign account.