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Ted Cruz backs T.W. Shannon with first Senate primary endorsement of 2014

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is wading into the contested U.S. Senate primary in Oklahoma, throwing his support behind former state House speaker T.W. Shannon (R), Shannon's campaign said Wednesday. It marks Cruz's first foray into a contested Senate primary in 2014.

"T.W. Shannon is a strong Constitutional conservative who will fight for individual liberty and help turn our country around," Cruz said in a statement distributed by Shannon's campaign. "T.W. embodies the American dream. I’m proud to offer T.W. my enthusiastic endorsement because not only will he vote the right way, but he’ll stand up and fight with us in the Senate to stop President Obama’s assault on our liberties and defend America’s founding principles."

Cruz is the vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But he signaled last year that he would chart his own course when it comes to candidate endorsements. He's vowed to stay out of contested primaries involving Senate incumbents, even though the NRSC is an incumbent protection organization. Cruz notably declined to endorse fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn until after Cornyn won the Republican primary.

Shannon is competing in an open primary against Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and other contenders for the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Early polling revealed Lankford to be the frontrunner.

The NRSC is officially neutral in every open primary.

Shannon is backed by Sarah Palin (R) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Cruz is slated to join the two of them at a Shannon campaign rally on Thursday, April 24.

Regardless of who wins the June 24 Republican primary, the seat is expected to stay in GOP hands.