Cole won his mother's seat in the state Senate and later took a job in Washington with the campaign committee for Republican House candidates.
In 1994, Cole was back in Oklahoma, poised for a major turning point in Oklahoma politics. In that year, the middle of former President Bill Clinton's first term, Cole's consulting firm had several Republican clients running for office, including Frank Keating for governor and Frank Lucas, Tom Coburn, Steve Largent and J.C. Watts for Congress.
A Republican revolution nationwide gave the GOP control of the U.S. House that year, and Lucas, Coburn, Largent and Watts were part of it, as Oklahoma's congressional delegation became dominated by Republicans for the first time.
Keating also won, and Cole became his chief political adviser as secretary of state.
In 2000, Cole was the chief of staff for the Republican National Committee when George W. Bush won the presidency. He won his U.S. House seat in 2002, succeeding Watts, and immediately became an informal political adviser to his colleagues.
After Republicans lost control of the House in 2006, Cole became chairman of the House GOP campaign committee, but his term ended with the loss of 20 more seats and political strain between him and Boehner, who was then the House Republican leader. Cole dropped his bid for a second term as chairman when Boehner backed Cole's opponent.
“Tom's a strategist,” Lucas said last week. “He's kind of a chess player in moving his pieces around to ultimately win the game.”
While not endorsing Cole's strategy, Lucas said he understood it.
“Tom was trying to make everyone consider all the options.” Lucas said the reaction by other Republicans could best be described as “reflexive.”
Despite the tension between Boehner and Cole four years ago, Cole has been an outspoken supporter of the speaker. He said there is no difference in “political theology” between him and the rest of Republicans, and he criticized the Obama administration for not presenting a detailed plan to cut spending and reform entitlement programs.
Cole said he was asked his opinion on the tax issue and gave it. If he were in a huddle and the quarterback asked his opinion on a play, he'd give it, Cole said, but then to go to the line determined to run whatever play was called. He said he would likely back whatever plan Boehner ultimately brings.
“To me, the politics of this dictate the decision,'' he said. If the president wants to be responsible for tax rates going up on the wealthiest taxpayers, Cole said, “we ought to protect the rest of the American people.”
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At a glance
Rep. Tom Cole
Republican, first elected to the U.S. House in 2002
• Age: 63
• Home: Moore
• Committees: Appropriations, Budget
• Previous positions: Oklahoma state senator, Oklahoma secretary of state, political consultant, chief of staff for Republican National Committee, chairman of Oklahoma Republican Party
• Education: B.A. from Grinnell College; M.A. from Yale University; Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.