U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe officially announced his retirement at a press conference on Friday and endorsed his former chief of staff Luke Holland in the race for his open seat. 

Inhofe did not attend the press conference at the Oklahoma History Center after testing positive for COVID-19, but offered his endorsement of Holland over the phone. 

“Luke is not just a good friend of mine but a very knowledgeable person who’s really been running this office for a long time,” Inhofe said. 

Holland already has a campaign website and spoke Friday about the race.

Holland resigned from Inhofe’s office on Thursday night and said his top priorities if elected are “restoring America’s Christian values” in Washington D.C. and advancing economic freedom.

Sen. Jim Inhofe listens to a speech at the Oklahoma GOP convention in Oklahoma City on April 10, 2021. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

“I think what I bring to the table is a true north of what this country really is about, that we are the greatest country on Earth,” he said. “Because of our Christian values and our freedoms, that’s what this whole thing is about. It’s about fighting to protect our country from the direction that the socialists want to go in.”

Holland did not refer to President Joe Biden as “president” while announcing his candidacy. When asked by The Frontier if he believes Biden to be the duly elected president, Holland did not answer the question and started talking about election integrity.

“He was sworn in under our Constitution,” Holland said. “So one of the things that I really heard a lot about over the last couple of months and last year is the concerns that voters have over election security.”

Holland will battle a lack of name recognition in a race sure to be packed with Oklahoma Republican heavyweights. U.S. Reps. Kevin Hern and Markwayne Mullin, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and former Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon are among likely contenders.

Hern is expected to announce a run for Inhofe’s open seat next week, a person familiar with his plans told The Frontier.

Hern is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with an estimated net worth of more than $26 million, giving him the advantage of being able to self-fund his campaign on short notice.

Mullin is also expected to enter the race, according to POLITICO reporter Alex Isenstadt. The Washington Examiner reported that Mullin will announce his bid for Senate on Friday.

Tulsa pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, who is currently challenging U.S. Sen. James Lankford in the Republican primary for Oklahoma’s other Senate seat, is also contemplating switching to a run for Inhofe’s open seat, he told The Frontier. 

Lahmeyer said while he believes Lankford to be beatable, he has to consider all the options.

“To be truthful with you: I am assessing all possibilities including Inhofe’s seat,” he said in a text message. “I’ve been bombarded with requests to run for that soon-to-be-open seat. I’ll be praying about what to do. I’m inclined to beat Lankford but all options are on the table.”

Shannon also teased a potential run for the open seat with a statement on his Instagram on Friday.

“Jim Inhofe’s retirement announcement today after a nearly 40 year political career in DC marks an end of an era in Oklahoma politics,” Shannon said in the post. “… I have never shied away from a fight just because I am an underdog… In such a time as this my family and I are seeking God’s guidance on how our gifts and talents can best serve Oklahoma.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt shot down rumors that he was contemplating a run for Senate and said he is committed to seeking a second term in November.

“US Senator Jim Inhofe has served the State of Oklahoma with unwavering devotion. I am grateful he has committed to serving the State and our nation through the end of 2022,” Stitt said in a statement. “I am fully committed to serving the State of Oklahoma as Governor and seeking the support of Oklahomans for another four years in this role.”

Due to a new state law enacted last year, Inhofe had until March 1 to announce his resignation and trigger a special election this year. By announcing on Friday, the special election for the remainder of Inhofe’s term will be on the November ballot. 

Candidates will have a three-day window to make a run for office official April 13-15. Republican candidates will face off in a primary on June 28.