T.W. Shannon Weighs Run for Coburn's Seat

T.W. Shannon Weighs Run for Coburn's Seat
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A rising star in Republican politics is dipping his toe into the race to replace Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn.

T.W. Shannon, the 35-year-old speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, is forming an exploratory committee for a Senate bid, becoming the second Republican to show official interest in a race that has quickly become a battleground for competing forces within the party.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, a member of the House leadership team, announced his Senate bid Monday, drawing opposition from a handful of conservative groups that cited the congressman’s recent votes on the budget and debt ceiling. Freshman Rep. Jim Bridenstine is favored by these groups, though he hasn’t announced his intention to run.

Shannon -- the state’s first African-American speaker since Reconstruction, who would, if successful, be the second black Republican in the Senate -- has been identified as a rising star by the American Conservative Union and could combine his state House and conservative ties to become a viable alternative to Lankford and Bridenstine.

Candidates will compete in a June primary, with an August runoff if no one receives 50 percent of the vote. Shannon and Bridenstine, however, could provide Lankford with an opening if they split the conservative vote.

Lankford won his 5th District seat in 2010 despite having never run for political office. He ran a Baptist youth camp, one of the largest in the world, and has statewide name recognition and the ability to raise grassroots money, state operatives say. Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot, was elected in 2012 after defeating Republican incumbent John Sullivan in the primary. Bridenstine represents Tulsa, and though some observers say he has lower state-wide name recognition than the others, conservative outside groups already backing him could help with cash.

Coburn announced last week that he will leave the Senate at the end of the 113th Congress. He is dealing with a recurrence of prostate cancer, and will vacate his seat two years before his second term is up. While Republicans expect to hold the seat in this red state, the quest for the GOP nomination there will be a key test between the establishment and the right flank, especially given Coburn’s legacy. The physician-turned-lawmaker is one of the most fiscally conservative members of the Senate, known for releasing an annual expose on government waste. After announcing his early exit, he asked Gov. Mary Fallin to hold a special election for his seat on the same day as the midterm election to avoid additional taxpayer expense.

Shannon was elected to the Oklahoma House in 2007 and represents Lawton City, where he grew up. He is also a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and previously worked for U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (who is also a member) and former Rep. J.C. Watts. Shannon has been expected to seek a higher office given that he will be term-limited by 2018.

No Democrats have publicly expressed interest in running for the seat. GOP operatives in the state say there might be room for a dark horse candidate on the Republican side. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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