UPDATE: Oklahoma Speaker Formally Announces Senate Candidacy
Updated January 29, 2014 at 1:48 p.m.
Oklahoma's Republican House Speaker T.W. Shannon officially kicked off his U.S. Senate campign at the Tulsa Historical Society Wednesday morning, criticizing Washington for what he says is a failure to effectively address the national debt.
"I've watched our country go trillions of dollars into debt, and I pledged when I became Speaker that Oklahoma would not go down the same path as Washington, D.C., Shannon said. "We need to reduce our national debt, not keep adding to it."
The 35-year-old Lawton Republican told members of his caucus Tuesday about his plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated early by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.
"I honestly believe that if we will govern the way that we've governed in Oklahoma, we can make a difference," Shannon said. "I feel led and compelled to do it, and I'm not so pessimistic to believe that it can't be done."
In an email obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, Shannon informed House members he would keep the top leadership post in the chamber for the time being.
An official with Shannon's campaign confirmed the authenticity of the email but declined to speak on the record ahead of a formal announcement Wednesday.
A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Shannon was the first African-American and the youngest speaker of the Oklahoma House when elected last year.
Earlier this week Shannon said a growing number of business leaders from across the state are urging him to enter the race for Oklahoma's open U.S. Senate seat, and that he intends to formally announce his decision this week.
Shannon released a statement with the names of three dozen business owners he says have joined his exploratory committee.
U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa also is considering the race.