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Posted at 1:52 PM ET, 01/13/2011

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison won't seek reelection

By Chris Cillizza

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison won't run again in 2012. AP Photo by Matt Slocum

Updated, 4:30 pm

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced today she will not seek a fourth term, the first incumbent up for reelection in 2012 to retire.

"I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2012," Hutchison said in a statement released this afternoon. "That should give the people of Texas ample time to consider who my successor will be."

Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R), Hutchison's home state colleague and the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, praised Hutchison as "an example to us all".

Hutchison's retirement brings to a close a roller coaster last few years for the Texas Senator who was once the most popular elected official in the state.

Hutchison rode that wave of popularity in a primary challenge to Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2010 but found herself badly outmaneuvered in that race as Perry cast her as a creature of an unpopular Washington -- highlighting her seat on the Appropriations Committee and her vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Following her defeat, Hutchison was expected to resign from the Senate -- she had previously said she would leave the body no matter the outcome of the governor's race -- but instead reversed course and stayed in office.

She spent much of late 2010 and the early part of this year contemplating whether or not to run for a fourth term -- with the prospect of a serious primary challenge looming.

Texas Republicans not aligned with Hutchison insisted her decision to retire was born of necessity -- that she was so badly damaged from the primary fight with Perry that she could not win another primary race against even a mediocre opponent.

With Hutchison formally ending her political career, attention will immediately turn to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst who most handicappers regard as the frontrunner if he decides to seek the open seat.

Dewhurst received more than three million votes on election night 2010 -- eclipsing even Perry's total -- and is widely seen as the most popular elected official in the state.

Dewhurst also has massive personal wealth -- a huge advantage in such a large and expensive state as Texas.

In a statement released a few hours after Hutchison's announcement, Dewhurst leaned heavily into a bid.

"While my focus remains on the challenges we face here at the state level and making this upcoming session successful, I fully intend to explore running for the United States Senate, and should I run, I will run with the intention of winning and continuing to serve the people of Texas just as I have done throughout my career," he said.

Aside from Dewhurst, the other names mentioned are Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams and former Secretary of State Roger Williams.

Michael Williams had begun to run during the 2010 election when it seemed as though Hutchison would resign her office. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsed Williams' candidacy in that abbreviated run.

It's not clear what the Democratic field will look like although former state Comptroller John Sharp has been mentioned as has 2010 gubernatorial nominee Bill White. "We look forward to running a competitive race in Texas as the Lone Star state is now one of several Democratic pick-up opportunities next November," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 13, 2011; 1:52 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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