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Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe to resign from the Senate

One of American politics’ most enthusiastic climate deniers is exiting the stage: Two years after getting re-elected, James Inhofe is giving up his seat.

It was exactly seven years ago tomorrow that the public saw something highly unusual on the floor of the U.S. Senate: a snowball.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — at the time, the chair of the committee overseeing environmental policy — presented the snowball to his colleagues, before tossing it to an aide, as part of his case against the climate change. As the Oklahoman saw it, snow in Washington, D.C., in February was evidence that the planet isn’t warming.

This didn’t make any sense, though it was par for the course for one of American politics’ most enthusiastic climate deniers. It’s also the sort of argument that others will have to make in Inhofe’s stead. The Oklahoman reported this morning:

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe plans to resign the seat he has held since 1994, setting up what could be major changes in the state’s political landscape just weeks before candidate filing. Inhofe, 87, said in an interview Thursday that he and his wife, Kay, “have decided that we need to have time together.”

The incumbent GOP senator cruised to a landslide re-election victory just two years ago, and his current term isn’t set to end until 2026. Inhofe, who’ll turn 88 in the fall, is nevertheless exiting the stage, confirming weeks of Capitol Hill scuttlebutt.

The timing is relevant because of state election laws: By making this announcement before March 1, Inhofe has triggered Oklahoma’s special election process. (If the senator had made the announcement after March 1, Gov. Kevin Stitt would appoint a caretaker senator who wouldn’t be allowed to run for the seat.)

In theory, the race to replace him should generate a crowded Republican primary field, with plenty of current and former U.S. House members eyeing statewide campaigns, but in practice, Inhofe has already endorsed the candidate he wants to see replace him: The senator endorsed his chief of staff, Luke Holland, who technically launched his campaign before Inhofe officially announced his plans.

Whether this helps clear the field for Holland remains to be seen.

Either way, Oklahoma will hold two U.S. Senate races at the same time: Republican Sen. James Lankford is also up for re-election this year.

Primary Day in the state is June 28. The general election, of course, is in November.

As for the national context, there are now seven incumbent senators stepping down this year, and six of them are Republicans:

  • Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont
  • Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri
  • Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina
  • Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio
  • Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama
  • Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania
  • Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma

Of the corresponding 2022 contests, Inhofe’s seat is expected to be the least competitive.