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Boren Will Leave Senate to Run University of Oklahoma : Politics: He’s the sixth Democratic senator to announce his retirement this year. Move boosts the Republicans’ odds of scoring electoral gains.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) announced Wednesday that he will resign his seat at the end of this session of Congress, raising Republican hopes of ending Democratic control of the Senate and checking President Clinton’s ambitious domestic programs.

Boren, 53, who once had presidential ambitions, announced in Norman, Okla., that he will resign in November from the seat he has held for 16 years to become president of the University of Oklahoma.

“The revitalization of our country will come from the grass roots, through the strengthening of local communities and the rebuilding of our great institutions, especially our schools and universities,” said Boren, a former Oklahoma governor.

Boren, a conservative Democrat who played a key role in defeating Clinton’s proposed wide-based energy tax last year, eventually voted against Clinton’s budget proposal even though the tax he had opposed no longer was in the plan. Boren was chairman of a joint committee on the organization of Congress and formerly headed the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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With his decision, Boren became the sixth Democratic senator to announce his retirement this year. Three Republicans have said that they will step down. The large number of Democratic seats without incumbents will increase GOP chances of scoring gains over the next year, political observers said.

Democrats hold a 56-44 edge in the Senate and were expected to suffer a net loss of three or four seats this year. The odds are still in favor of a Democratic majority after the elections but Republican advances could set up a major showdown in 1996, when Clinton is expected to seek reelection at the top of the ticket.

“We’ve got a very challenging, tough cycle,” said Ken Klein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “If history is a guide, we can expect to dip a few. . . . Our goal is to maintain a working majority.”

A special election will be called in March or April next year to fill out the remaining two years of Boren’s term. At this point the race is regarded as a tossup, with both parties expected to wage tough primary election fights.

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In addition to the wide-open contests--those without incumbents--more Democrats than Republicans appear to be in trouble in reelection contests. Of the 34 Senate seats at stake this fall, 21 are now held by Democrats and 13 by Republicans, an advantage for GOP challengers at a time when the public seems to be in an anti-incumbent mood.

Although congressional races often are decided on the basis of personalities or local issues rather than any over-arching national trend, Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of the highly respected Cook Political Report, said in his latest appraisal of 1994 races that the trend now seems to favor Republican contenders for the Senate.

“The (Democratic) party’s odds of incurring rather significant losses in the Senate have increased in recent months,” Cook wrote. “We are estimating a likely Republican gain of three or four seats. . . . A six-seat gain is unlikely, and a seven-seat gain, which would give Senate Republicans a majority for the first time in eight years, would be highly unlikely but not impossible.”

Gary Koops, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that Boren’s departure would give the GOP an unexpected opportunity. “For Republicans to take control is certainly an uphill operation,” Koops said, “but opening up the Oklahoma seat does nothing to discourage our aspirations.”

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In Maine, where Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell was considered unbeatable, his surprise decision to leave the Senate at the end of the year gives Republicans another solid chance to capture a Democratic seat.

The other retiring Democratic senators are Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Harlan Mathews of Tennessee, Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio and Donald W. Riegle Jr. of Michigan. Departing Republicans are John C. Danforth of Missouri, Dave Durenberger of Minnesota and Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming.

Democratic prospects for defeating incumbent Republicans appear greatest in Washington state, Delaware and Montana, while GOP chances for knocking off sitting Democrats are thought to be strongest in New Jersey and Virginia.

As for Boren’s departure, Klein said that it underscores the importance of the ’94 elections, particularly since special elections like that to be held in Oklahoma often have a low voter turnout, which tends to favor Republicans.

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One twist in Boren’s new job: He will be supervising a faculty that includes law professor Anita Faye Hill, who claimed in 1991 Senate testimony that she had been sexually harassed years before by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Boren voted to confirm Thomas, who is now on the court, but said later that the vote might have been a mistake.

Times staff writer Robert Shogan contributed to this story.


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