House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Sunday he hoped that Rep. J.C. Watts, the only black Republican in Congress and a member of the GOP leadership, would seek re-election but acknowledged that the Oklahoman might retire.

Watts' district is in limbo as a result of a legislative redistricting plan and last week he left open the possibility of retirement.

Hastert, R-Ill., said Watts, now in his fourth term, is important to the GOP's House leadership team, where he is the chairman of the House Republican Conference.

``J.C. Watts is certainly somebody who I depend on,'' Hastert said on NBC's Meet the Press. ``He carries out our whole communications effort. ... He'll play a key role in the whole homeland defense issue.''

Hastert said Watts ``has a lot to offer this country, and I would hope that he stays engaged.'' Asked if his use of the word ``hope'' indicated that Watts might retire, the speaker said: ``There's a possibility, yes.''

Watts said last week any announcement about his future will come in Oklahoma.

Congressional redistricting remains clouded in Oklahoma, which is losing a seat because of population shifts. After months of internal struggle, the Legislature approved a new map that would give Watts and four other incumbents a safe district in which to seek re-election.

The Democrats are challenging the plan in the courts.