Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was stubborn as a mule and conservative to his core. But the Oklahoma family doctor, known for railing against federal earmarks, didn’t let political differences dictate whom he called friends — even if it didn’t sit well with some of his supporters.
Coburn, who died early Saturday at age 72, joined the U.S. Senate the same year as President Barack Obama, and the pair became fast friends despite their contrasting ideologies. In Oklahoma, where Obama failed to carry a single county in his 2008 presidential bid, voters took note.
But the Republican senator shrugged off complaints in 2009, when the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, ran a front-page photograph that showed him hugging Obama after the Democratic president gave a speech to a joint session of Congress.
“I’m not aligned with him politically. I don’t know what people back home in Oklahoma would be worried about,” Coburn, who was re-elected the following year, said at the time. “But you need to separate the difference in political philosophy versus friendship. How better to influence somebody than love them?”
Coburn’s death was confirmed to The Associated Press by cousin Bob Coburn. He did not provide a cause of death, but Tom Coburn had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer for years.