Republican Tom Cole declares candidacy for Watts' seat

Wednesday, July 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Tom Cole, former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, said Wednesday he will run to succeed Rep. J.C. Watts in Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District.

Watts, the only black Republican in Congress, announced Monday that he will not seek a fifth term this fall, setting up a wide-open race that could be key to Democratic hopes of gaining the seven seats the party needs to win control of the House this fall.

Cole said at a news conference in Norman that he is the man to keep Watts' seat in GOP hands.

``From a Republican standpoint, it must be someone who can attract people, raise the resources and project the credibility to win in what is a conservative but competitive district,'' Cole said. ``It would be tragic for my party if we lost a seat that is both critical to retaining our narrow majority in the House of Representatives and that voted so heavily for President Bush in the 2000 election.''

Cole, 53, a resident of Moore, is a close political adviser to Watts, who has said he would vote for Cole.

``I believe in individual liberty, the free enterprise system, limited government and lower taxes,'' Cole said. ``I support traditional values, including protecting the life of the unborn, returning prayer to our public schools and defending the Pledge of Allegiance.''

He said he would work diligently to protect the interests of Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill.

Cole's mother, Helen Cole, was a state senator from Moore. Cole also served a term in the Oklahoma Senate, succeeding his mother.

He was chairman of the state Republican Party and founded a successful political consulting firm in Oklahoma City. He also served as Oklahoma secretary of state.

Cole is currently an official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

Norman attorney Ben Odom, a Democrat who ran against Watts in 1998, said Tuesday he will seek the position.

July 10 is the candidate filing deadline for the post.

Historically, the district, which includes most of south-central Oklahoma, has been held by a Democrat. Watts was only the second Republican in state history to hold the seat.

Watts, the fourth-ranking member of the House GOP leadership, said he was leaving to spend more time with his wife and five children.

Watts was the second House Republican leader to announce his retirement since December, following Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.