OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ With the election filing period less than a year away, no major Democratic candidate has surfaced as a challenger to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., although a state senator with one year in office is considering the race.
Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, a 34-year-old Harvard divinity school graduate, talks like he is a reluctant potential candidate.
He said he is pondering the race, but would defer to better-known Democrats such as Gov. Brad Henry or Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
Henry, however, has taken himself out of the contest, as has Dan Boren, the state's only Democratic congressman and the son of David Boren, former governor and senator and now president of the University of Oklahoma.
Edmondson, meanwhile, has said he would not even consider running for the Senate until the state's lawsuit against Arkansas poultry companies has been settled, something that could take years.
As a father of two small children, Rice said he was planning to relax from active campaigning after spending two years running for the Legislature.
Supporters, however, have started a Web site to drum up support for Rice, who is highly critical of Inhofe and says the state needs a senator with ``who acts with more integrity'' and ``puts our state in a better light.''
``I'm going to think about it some more and try to make up my mind in the next month or so,'' Rice said.
``I think Inhofe is vulnerable to a candidate who is pragmatic and really wants to deal with the issues that face this country and not just focus on these hot-button issues, some of which are irrelevant to Oklahoma.''
Rice said the incumbent Republican has ``really been the poster child for someone who doesn't want to have a reasonable dialogue about climate change and the future of energy consumption and energy choices that we have to make.''
As the former chairman of the Senate committee that deals with the environment, Inhofe drew criticism for saying that man-made global warming is a myth.
Rice paints Inhofe as an extreme partisan. ``Oklahomans really don't want someone who puts their political party first. He just comes off as protecting the president and the vice president and the GOP above all else.''
Inhofe has been one of the president's staunchest supporters on the war in Iraq and other issues, although he is fighting the immigration bill backed by Bush and leaders of Congress.
He has taken on Republicans, including some presidential candidates, for running away from the president and the war effort.
``I really believe we have a bunch of mushy Republicans,'' Inhofe told reporters when Vice President Dick Cheney came to Tulsa last month. ``They are so afraid of the press they dishonor themselves.''
Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, says Inhofe is well positioned for re-election to a third full term in Republican-trending Oklahoma and thinks evidence of that is the absence of a well-known Democrat in the race.
He believes Inhofe could beat any Democrat, including Henry. ``He's all over the state and has the reputation of being a tenacious campaigner.''
In his last re-election bid in 2002, Inhofe got more than 57 percent in a three-way race, besting former Democratic Gov. David Walters by more than 200,000 votes.
Some political officials feel that a bright, youthful candidate in the mold of Rice could be the strongest opponent for Inhofe, 72.
A former state legislator and Tulsa mayor, Inhofe has lost races in the past for governor and Congress.
Ivan Holmes, the state's new Democratic Party chairman, insists 2008 could be a Democratic year and said finding a strong opponent to Inhofe is one of his top priorities.
Holmes said he will be talking in the coming weeks to Henry, Edmondson and others to make absolutely sure they will not plan to run.
``It's going to take somebody who can really articulate the issues and can fire up and motivate people,'' he said.
Rice, who was born in Oklahoma City, got his bachelor's degree in 1996 from Colby College in Maine and got his masters degree in theological studies from Harvard three years later.
He then became a freelance documentary producer and editor.
According to his official Senate biography, he decided to dedicate his career to social justice work and political reforms after his brother, David Rice, was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
He is married to Dr. Apple Newman Rice, a pathologist at a south Oklahoma City hospital.