A trio of influential leaders of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), are making an unusual joint appearance in Tulsa on Thursday to support T.W. Shannon, the former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, who is now seeking a U.S. Senate seat.
Shannon, who identifies himself as both African-American and Native-American, is running in a June 24 primary to replace retiring Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who is also a Republican. Shannon’s main opponent is U.S. Rep. James Lankford, a member of the House Republican leadership. The race has turned into something of a proxy in the broader debate between the establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP, with Cruz and Palin and other key anti-establishment figures backing Shannon.
The winner of the primary will be a heavy favorite to be elected in November in Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states in the country.
If Shannon wins, he will join Tim Scott of South Carolina, currently the only black Republican in the Senate. And the GOP’s new push to diversify its ranks in part explains why Cruz, Palin and Lee, the kind of heavyweights in the GOP who would normally be the sole headline guest at an event, are joining together to boost Shannon.
Like Cruz and Palin, Shannon is also very conservative, advocating total repeal of Obamacare, for example.