Recent fundraising letters have targeted the Oklahoma Republican and his views on global warming.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe thinks he is the next Richard Pombo.
Coming from the veteran Oklahoma Republican lawmaker, that description might surprise some.
After all, Pombo was the seven-term Republican congressman from a safe GOP district in California who appeared to be cruising toward re-election last year until he was swept up in the Democratic wave that cost his party control of Congress.
Pombo, who had been chairman of a House panel on natural resources, ended up losing to the same opponent he easily defeated two years earlier.
Inhofe says the same people who took out Pombo are now gunning for him.
He based that prediction at least partly on recent fundraising letters the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out using Inhofe as one of the major reasons donors should pony up for the cause.
"One seat. That's all it would take to flip Senate control back to the GOP in 2008," one letter states.
"And once again, the Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe -- who has called global warming the 'greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people' -- would assume the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works."
The letter also refers to Al Gore's recent appearances on Capitol Hill, accusing Inhofe of berating the former vice president.
"I am not at all surprised," Inhofe said when asked about the letters.
"I'm the Richard Pombo of the next election. I understand that."
Although Pombo's opponent reportedly campaigned against the incumbent's record on the environment, Inhofe pointed out that other issues motivated voters to oust Pombo.
Press reports indicate Democrats were able to nationalize Pombo's campaign by focusing on scandals that had plagued the Republican-led Congress and his support for President Bush's policies on the Iraq war.
"They went after him and successfully defeated him," Inhofe said.
"We are right now starting to see just how much money did come into that little congressional district."
Although Inhofe also has been a stalwart defender of Bush's approach to the Iraq war and is viewed as a leading GOP voice on global warming and other environmental issues, there are glaring differences between the senator and Pombo.
The big one would seem to be the lack of an opponent.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry has said no to national Democrats hoping to recruit him for the race.
U.S. Rep. Dan Boren is also taking a pass on the 2008 Senate race.
Inhofe concedes he for now is not facing the kind of marquee candidate who automatically could generate a national buzz.
"But my gosh," he said, "it is 18, 19, 20 months yet."
Inhofe clearly does not mind turning the tables on the Democrats' fundraising efforts.
"I've been telling people that we are raising money, but it is a lot slower," he said, insisting that he will be up against "unlimited funds" fueled by the "doom and gloom" picture painted by Democrats.
Inhofe finally conceded the DSCC just might be "more concerned about using me to raise money for other races than actually defeating me."
DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller agreed the money generated by the recent fundraising letters could end up being spent in another state and conceded no major opponent has announced against Inhofe.
"But it is early in the cycle," Miller said.
As to Inhofe's assertions that Democrats will use the "Pombo model" against him, Miller pointed to the senator's own statements.
"We don't have to do anything to portray Jim Inhofe as an extremist," he said.
"His own statements do the job for us."