Former Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon likes to say runoff elections in Oklahoma are a “complete reset.”
As a U.S. Senate candidate, he certainly hopes so.
The Lawton native survived last month’s Republican primary, which is more than 12 other candidates can say, but his 17.5% of the vote left him far behind Markwayne Mullin’s 43.6%.
Shannon finds some hope in the fact that Oklahoma history abounds with comeback winners who finished second in a primary and in some cases barely made it into runoffs — Gov. Kevin Stitt and 1st District Congressman Kevin Hern among them.
“Primary results don’t necessarily reflect what’s going to happen in the runoff,” said Shannon. “Even if it did, 57% of the electorate did not vote for (Mullin).”
Still, that 26-point deficit is an awfully high hill to climb. By comparison, Brad Henry overcame a 17.5-point primary deficit to beat Vince Orza in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial runoff in what is generally considered the biggest reversal in state history.
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With Mullin largely tied up in Washington, Shannon has been barnstorming the state, making three to five stops a day. His message is pretty simple.
“It’s the three C’s,” Shannon said. “It’s the Constitution, it’s capitalism, and it’s Christianity.”
Some who have been around a while might think that sounds a lot like the old “God, guns and gays” strategy long successful for Oklahoma office-seekers, but that’s not exactly the tack Shannon seems to be taking. He does talk about his religion quite a bit, but his primary interests seem to be in the realm of commerce — keeping the economy running and the cash circulating.
It’s a system, Shannon says, that has worked for him.
“For a guy who grew up in Lawton, America, had a chance to go to college and law school … this country and this state have been very good to me,” Shannon said. “I’m running because of a strong feeling that of whom much is given, much is required.”
Of African American and Chickasaw extraction, Shannon likes to tell his own story of becoming speaker of the House at 33 and a bank president at 40.
“I do believe I have a skill set that I can (take) to Washington, D.C., day 1, and push back against the agenda that I think is threatening not only the prosperity of America but the security of America.”
On two current issues, abortion rights and inflation, Shannon takes a pretty standard Oklahoma Republican line. He said he would support federal legislation or a Constitutional amendment barring abortion in the United States, and he sees producing more oil and gas as the fundamental solution to rising prices.
Shannon gave up the House speakership in 2014 for an unsuccessful attempt at completing the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, where he lost to then-5th District Congressman James Lankford.
This time around, Shannon gave up his job as president of the tribally owned Chickasaw Community Bank to run against another congressman — Mullin — for another unexpired term, this one created by Inhofe’s retirement.
Throughout his political and business career, Shannon has been closely linked to the Chickasaw Nation. This has put him at odds with Stitt over the governor’s handling of tribal issues, but it has also won him some powerful allies.
Some of them — exactly who isn’t clear — think enough of Shannon to have spent $1.75 million supporting his candidacy through anonymous independent expenditures.
It’s a little surprising, then, that Shannon calls the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which made such expenditures possible, “a mistake.”
“All political donations should be open,” he said. “People should be able to see who’s donating and why.”
If Shannon is to add his name to the history of runoff comebacks, he’ll have to do it without the help of former President Donald Trump. Trump has endorsed Mullin, which disappoints Shannon but doesn’t shake his allegiance to the former president or his “America First” agenda.
Trump, said Shannon, “had to make a decision, but ultimately it’s the voters of Oklahoma who will decide who the next United States senator is.”