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Inhofe to retire from Senate, teeing up special election in Oklahoma

Sen. Jim Inhofe is expected to announce his retirement in the coming days, according to a person familiar with his plans, likely triggering a special election to replace him this fall.

The 87-year-old Oklahoma Republican was elected to another six-year term in 2020, but has missed more votes than usual recently and told reporters in December his wife has been sick. His decision to step down will surely fuel a competitive Republican primary to succeed him in ruby-red Oklahoma.

Inhofe is expected to serve the remainder of the current Congress and to announce his retirement on Monday. He’s a longtime top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

GOP senators are expected to try and talk Inhofe out of leaving office early, according to the person familiar with Inhofe’s plans. Inhofe planned to reveal his intentions in a video announcement, but news reports of his potential retirement preempted its release, according to one GOP source familiar with the matter. Another GOP source said the announcement has been moved up and is expected to come as early as Friday.

A spokesperson for the senator did not respond to a request for comment. The New York Times was the first to report Inhofe might resign early.

By announcing before March 1, Inhofe will trigger an election this year to replace him. But he intends to stay in his seat until next January, avoiding the need for an interim appointment to fill his seat temporarily.

Inhofe is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, but embraced a deal-cutting acumen on two key policy areas: Infrastructure and national security. As the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, he enjoyed a close relationship with former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a staunch liberal. Similarly, as the top Republican on Armed Services, he has worked amiably with Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Ahead of his pending announcement, there’s already a crop of people seen as potential candidates for the soon-to-be-vacated seat, including Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has increased his national profile over the past two years. There’s also state Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who ran for the state’s open Senate seat in 2014, and former U.S. Attorney Trent Shore. Reps. Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hern are viewed as likely contenders, as well.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is in line to succeed Inhofe on the Armed Services Committee, setting him up to chair the panel if Republicans retake the Senate. Wicker is currently the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) could be in line to take the top GOP slot on Commerce if Wicker moves on.

Alex Isenstadt and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

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