POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2007:
Kissed by the Lips
U.S. Senate candidate has legendary rock band connections and GenX love
While Inhofe has a leg or two up in the way of practiced political savvy, Rice has something going for him that the verteran senator isn't likely to be able to match, and that is the cool factor.
Following last week's announcement by state Sen. Andrew Rice that he's challenging U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe for his seat in Congress, an easy and obvious comparison can be made to the old "David versus Goliath"-cliché.
The hard part, though, is figuring out which one is David and which one is Goliath.
For the typical Tulsan who likely never heard of Rice until he showed up in town last week to throw down the gauntlet, the obvious pick for the big guy with all the advantages would probably be the veteran Republican, both for his renowned uber-conservatism among a mostly uber-conservative constituency, and for his having more years of political experience under his belt than Andy has of being able to dress and feed himself.
Indeed, compared to Inhofe's 40 years of political life, Rice isn't just wet behind the ears. He's still coughing up amniotic fluid.
It hasn't even been a year since the 34-year-old Democrat from Oklahoma City won election to his first political office, and, of course, even less time since he began to gain any experience in the duties of that office.
Also, what might have been an overkill advantage in that election might come back to haunt him as a liability in this particular fight.
Rice's 2008 U.S. Senate race will be a fierce competition for the approval of voters who consistently sent one of the most definitively conservative people in Congress back to the U.S. Senate for the past 13 years (and counting) and to represent them in various other capacities for almost three decades prior to that.
Last year, though, Rice was the anointed heir/successor of Democratic state Sen. Bernest Cain, who was arguably the single most liberal member of the state Legislature during the 28 consecutive years he represented the voters of Senate District 46.
Cain, who was prevented from term limits from continuing in office, publicly supported Rice during his campaign and said, "I couldn't have wished for a better successor" when he beat Republican candidate Joshua Jantz.
And handily vanquishing Jantz with 70 percent of the vote in that particular arena might actually have been an inflated display of Rice's campaign acumen, since most political contenders don't have the added advantage fall into their laps of an opponent whose campaign literature consists primarily of prayer requests "For God to place a hedge of thorns around the district, and every voter within, that no evil influence prevails, and that voters will know and believe the truth." (We couldn't make this stuff up--see Okiedoke.com/OKelect06//props/jjantz_a.jpg)
Not that anyone's opposed in principle to any of that, but it's doubtful even Jerry Falwell would have voted for someone whose religious zeal so obviously eclipsed any mention of policy issues and consideration of their district's well-known liberal leanings.
Rice's current rival, in contrast, has had decades to hone his political shrewdness.
While Inhofe has a leg or two up in the way of practiced political savvy, Rice has something going for him that the veteran senator isn't likely to be able to match, and that is the cool factor.
From a strictly objective journalistic standpoint, Rice is simply way cooler than Inhofe.
And, for better or worse, that can often carry more political leverage than experience, brilliant campaign strategy or even being right about the issues.
Lest the reader think we at UTW have lost our objectivity in this matter, we submit to you the evidence for our assertion: Rice happens to be a close personal friend of Wayne Coyle, front man of the Oklahoma City-based alternative rock band, The Flaming Lips.
As part of his annihilation of Jantz last year, Rice held a campaign event entitled "Vote. Or be Taken Over by Robots."
It featured performances by Coyle and was free to 18- to 21-year-olds.
Rice told UTW that Coyle and The Lips have already offered to pitch-in for the "anti-robot" campaign to follow, and even if global warming suddenly turns out to be a hoax after all, Inhofe will have a hard time competing with a good old-fashioned rock concert.
Rice's opening shot across Inhofe's bow mentioned nothing of his ties to rock stars, but he is making another close relationship a pillar in his campaign.
"This race is deeply personal for me," he said last week, referencing the murder of his brother David exactly six years ago when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, where he was working as an investment broker.
"His brother's death refocused his own life on social justice and public service," said Sarah Love of Rice's campaign office.
"You don't go to divinity school to become a politician," Rice concurred, making reference to his master's degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and his bachelor's in Religious Studies from Maine's Colby College.
Between college and graduate school, Rice worked in Sri Lanka and Thailand on rural development projects in impoverished villages for a year.
After Harvard, he worked as a documentary film producer until 9/11.
Following his brother's death, Rice said he was "involved in the 9/11 Commission process."
"He has been involved since 2002 with other families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks to oppose the war in Iraq and attempt to refocus America's leaders on the terrorist network that attacked us," said Love.
Rice told the gaggle of news reporters at his announcement that "the terrorists, Al-Qaeda, are not in Iraq and they never have been."
As a U.S. senator, Rice said he plans, among other efforts, to reform the nation's foreign policy.
When asked specifically how he intends to do that, he answered as an example, "By supporting moderate Islamic groups in the Middle East."
He said the current policy focuses too heavily on military efforts and "hasn't done nearly enough toward the winning of hearts and minds."
In his own particular campaign for the winning of hearts and minds, Rice said he expects a vicious fight with Inhofe.
"He's notorious for dirty campaigning, so we expect it to be a nasty campaign," he said.
"My family and I are ready for anything he might try to bring against us," Rice added.
Following Rice's announcement of his candidacy, Inhofe's campaign press secretary Josh Kivett said, "We welcome Senator Rice and any other potential Democrat candidates to the race and look forward to seeing them on the campaign trail. Regardless of our nominated opponent, we anticipate a spirited contest and a substantive debate on the issues."
"Senator Inhofe has been elected by wide margins in each of his previous Senate campaigns because the voters of Oklahoma known and trust him," he added.
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