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Jack Mildren looking at congressional contest

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Democrat Jack Mildren, a former lieutenant governor and star quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, is considering coming off the political sidelines to challenge for the 5th Congressional District post now held by Republican Ernest Istook.

``I'm taking a look at it, but I have made no decision at this time,'' Mildren told The Associated Press.

Istook scheduled news conferences in Oklahoma City and Tulsa on Monday amid growing speculation that he will run for governor. He planned announcements on Tuesday in Ada, Ardmore, Lawton, Clinton, Enid, Ponca City, Stillwater and Bartlesville.

Many were surprised that the congressman had apparently made up his mind to run for governor, since he would be leaving what is considered to be a safe position to seek a post held by an incumbent with high favorability ratings in public opinion polls.

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry has said he will seek re-election to a second term and is considered a shoe-in for his party's nomination. He is attempting to become only the third Oklahoma governor to win back-to-back terms.

Mildren did not say how serious he is about running for Congress at this point, but said he is being urged to do so by friends both inside and outside Oklahoma.

A former oilman, Mildren is currently a bank official and has been doing sports analysis on radio and for the Fox television network.

After serving four years as lieutenant governor, Mildren ran for the state's top post in 1994, but his candidacy suffered because former U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins ran as an independent, siphoning off Democratic votes from southeastern Oklahoman and assuring the election of Republican Frank Keating.

Istook's announcement was eagerly awaited by top officeholders at the Capitol, since it will affect their immediate political plans.

That group included Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker Todd Hiett.

Fallin earlier bowed out of the governor's race, along with former GOP Congressman J.C. Watts, also a former OU quarterback.

With Istook running for governor, ``I am seriously looking at running for the 5th District congressional seat,'' Fallin said.

Hiett, R-Kellyville, also was keenly interested in Istook's decision, since he has been talking about possibly running for governor.

If Fallin runs for Congress, Hiett said he might run for the state's No. 2 spot. He said he still is looking at the governor's race and a final decision would come later.

``It's going to be an exciting year in politics _ if, if and if all these things happen,'' Fallin said.

Republicans have been winning congressional races with ease in recent years and hold four of the state's five congressional posts. But Democrats say they will contend in the 5th District in 2006.

``The 5th District is definitely in play for Democrats,'' Pryor said.

Others mentioned as possible candidates include Republicans Kevin Calvey, a state representative from Del City; Ryan Leonard, an Oklahoma City attorney; Corporation Commission members Denise Bode and Jeff Cloud and Democrats Jim Meyer, Oklahoma City businessman, and Lou Barlow, who ran for the post previously.

Pryor said Henry, with a favorability rating of 70 percentage points in one poll, is in good shape for re-election.

``All indications are that the governor is very, very strong _ that the people of Oklahoma approve of what he has done,'' she said. ``He has made education and health care a priority and I think Oklahomans are going to be very eager to return him for a second term.''

Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, said he thinks Henry's support ``is shallow'' and the incumbent can be beaten by a good Republican candidate. He said Istook is a strong candidate ``but not the only (Republican) candidate.''

Already running for the GOP nomination are Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa, and Robert Sullivan, a Tulsa oilman. Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson, who ran in 2002 as an independent, also has said he may run again as a Republican.
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