Diversity enters Republican race for U.S. Senate seat from Oklahoma

Sun Jun 22, 2014 1:36pm EDT

Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon participates in the U.S. Senate debate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 18, 2014.  REUTERS/Nick Oxford

Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon participates in the U.S. Senate debate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Nick Oxford

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(Reuters) - In staunchly conservative Oklahoma, three major candidates are running in Tuesday's Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat, two have a shot at winning and one is gathering attention because he is half black and half Native American.

T.W. Shannon, 36 and the youngest speaker of the House in Oklahoma, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and represents a bit of diversity that has captured the attention of the national Republican Party looking to expand its base of white voters.

But polls show U.S. Rep James Lankford, 46 and a former leader of a massive Christian youth camp, slightly ahead of Shannon in the race that has exposed rifts within the tea party branch of the Republican Party.

Tea party darling Ted Cruz, a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, has endorsed Shannon, calling him a "conservative fighter, while an Oklahoma tea party group has rejected Shannon, saying in an open letter he has "too many masters to serve", including Native American tribes.

Both candidates have been running as hard-right conservatives who will defeat the Obama administration's agenda.

If neither gets a majority, the two head to a runoff in August, with the winner emerging as the favorite for the Senate seat due to the Republican dominance in the state.

More so than in other states, Native Americans have ingrained themselves into Oklahoma's social fabric, making up about 9 percent of the state's population.

This has created some backlash from ranchers who feel land grants to tribes have been exorbitant. Social conservatives dislike the casinos on Native American lands, seeing contributions from the tribes to Shannon's campaign as tainted.

Shannon has said his roots have helped him bring unity.

"Chickasaw values are Oklahoma values," he said in a recent TV appearance.

Outgoing Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican who is retiring, has been seen as keeping the playing field level, criticizing aspects of both campaign he sees as unjust.

One reason Lankford has the edge is that he comes from a larger constituency and is seen as better with national issues due to his time in the U.S. House, said Oklahoma States University political science professor Brandon Lenoir.

"The fact that Shannon is Native American and African American will be an appealing factor for a sector of the population, but traditionally, African Americans and Native Americans do not vote Republican," said Lenoir.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Comments (10)
sabrefencer wrote:
The republicans, need to diversify…appeal to more people verses getting sooo conservative they alienate everyone..they should stay out of religion and social issues, as they really stink at that…stick to strong armed forces, fiscal responsibility, jobs, jobs, jobs, self reliance on your own lives, on energy…stay away from anything, like imposing their rosaries on someones’ ovaries..want to bring up your families your way..fine..let others bring up their families their way….non of the republicans are so pure, that they can stand before their g-ds and say we are pure..except for pure bull….so this is very good, that qualified republicans, are running, with no regard to race, creed, or color..that is what this country is supposed to stand for..not the opinions of those, that think they are holier than thou…

Jun 22, 2014 1:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JoeSchmoe123 wrote:
MLK nailed it: “content of your character” is more important than the color of one’s skin.

But I ask: What kind of character does a Republican have?

Jun 22, 2014 2:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Ralphooo wrote:
“He has too many masters to serve” — are they TRYING to sound like moronic racists?

Color me convinced.

Jun 22, 2014 3:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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