J.C. Watts lends support to Shannon in his bid for Oklahoma Senate

Former Oklahoma Speaker T.W. Shannon (R) picked up the backing of former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) in his bid for the Senate.

Watts has been a longtime mentor to Shannon, who worked as a field director in his congressional office. In his endorsement, obtained first by The Hill, Watts references that shared history and says he “sensed right away [Shannon] was a young man of character and integrity, with great potential.”

“Working closely with him for a number of years, I got to know his heart, his family, and saw firsthand the kind of values that are rare in young people these days. Like me, his values are grounded in his faith and I have personally witnessed his values in action,” Watts adds.

He goes on to laud Shannon as “a voice, not an echo,” and declares him a “transformational figure.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of the man he is today, I couldn’t be more proud of the family man that he is and I couldn’t be more excited about his leadership. T.W. is a transformational leader and will fight to give our kids and grandkids an exceptional America, not just an average America,” Watts says.

Shannon, in a release announcing the endorsement, says he looks up to Watts as a model for himself.

“We have celebrated great victories together, prayed together and confided in each other when we needed a friend to listen. He is the kind of man I strive to be and he is the kind of leader I hope to be if elected to the U.S. Senate,” Shannon says.

Watts is a popular and prominent figure in Oklahoma politics and retains some star power from his time as a quarterback for the University of Oklahoma. But Shannon boasts some star power of his own within the Republican Party, having been named last year as a GOP Rising Star by the Republican National Committee.

Both have been touted as prominent African-American voices for the GOP as the party seeks to expand its diversity.

Shannon is facing off against Rep. James Lankford (R) in a competitive GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). 

He’s positioned himself as the conservative alternative to Lankford and picked up a handful of national conservative endorsements, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

But Shannon has deep ties to Oklahoma’s political establishment as well, as evidenced by Watts’s endorsement. The candidate also worked for Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and has a similarly close relationship with him.

On Thursday, Lankford touted his own series of endorsements from 16 state senators from across Oklahoma.

The last independent poll of the race, conducted earlier this month, showed the pair about tied for the nomination. 

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