TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who became the chamber's leader by winning support of its broad right wing, welcomed three tea party favorites to a campaign event Thursday as he seeks the Republican nomination for a soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Hundreds of supporters, many waving miniature American flags and blue Shannon yard signs, packed a converted church on the east side of town to hear former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Mike Lee, of Utah, tout Shannon's conservative credentials and tell the crowd it was time to take back the country from what they called its liberal leadership.
The three also said Shannon would stand up to party bosses and those who are "Republicans in name only."
Shannon is from Lawton, but his campaign event Thursday was practically in the back yard of former state Sen. Randy Brogdon, an Owasso resident who delighted conservatives in 2010 when he proposed forming a state militia to guard Oklahoma against an overzealous federal government. Owasso is a suburb of Tulsa.
Brogdon, who is among seven GOP candidates vying to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, disputed suggestions that he may be losing support among grass-roots conservatives in Oklahoma.
"I can tell you what I'm hearing around the state is the grass roots don't appreciate outsiders coming in and creating a conservative candidate," Brogdon said by phone after the rally.
Shannon deflected questions about the significance of the rally taking place so close to Brogdon's home turf during a brief interview with The Associated Press before the rally.
"We've gotten a great response from the entire city of Tulsa," Shannon said. He said Palin, Cruz and Lee examined his "conservative credentials" and his record of taking on the establishment before they formally endorsed him.
"They know I'm the kind of leader who will go to Washington and push back against the liberal Obama agenda," Shannon said.
A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Shannon was the first African-American and the youngest speaker of the Oklahoma House when he was elected to the post last year.
He won a close race for House speaker with the help of the Republican caucus' right wing, and he staked out several conservative positions that rankled not only Democrats, but also GOP leaders in the state Senate and governor's office.
He consistently opposed any effort for a bond issue to pay for state infrastructure improvements, arguing he had no interest in increasing the state's indebtedness or in emulating Washington, D.C.
He also targeted several of the state's welfare programs last year, pushing one bill that would require some food stamp recipients to perform at least 20 hours of "work activities" each week and another to divert federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families funds to create a public service campaign promoting marriage.
Cruz, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told the crowd that he was supporting Shannon because Shannon would have the courage "to look party bosses in the eye and say, 'I don't work for you, I work for the state of Oklahoma.'"
Palin, wearing a T-shirt with a glittery University of Oklahoma logo, called Shannon "the complete package," and chastised Democrats for saying conservatives don't embrace diversity.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed reporting.