Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison‘s announcement on Thursday that she won’t seek re-election will set off a flurry of activity as candidates seek to position themselves for the 2012 race in the reliably Republican state.
In a statement Thursday, Hutchison said she was stepping aside so the 2012 race can start in earnest without her.
“I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2012,” she said. “That should give the people of Texas ample time to consider who my successor will be. In the next two years, you can be assured that I will pursue my duties, and my responsibilities to our state and people, with the same vigor that I have employed during my Senate service.”
The news doesn’t come as a major surprise. Hutchison had originally planned to vacate her seat to run for governor last year, but returned to it after losing the Republican gubernatorial primary to Gov.Rick Perry.
Hutchison held a fundraiser for her Senate campaign committee last month, to help replenish her nearly-empty campaign account – a move that led to speculation she was looking at running again. She had just $52,000 in her Senate account at the end of September after making an unsuccessful run for governor in 2010.
Hutchison was also highly likely to face a difficult primary if she ran for re-election. Her moderate record — and her poor showing against Perry last year — led many conservatives in the state to believe she would be vulnerable in the 2012 primary. (A poll, from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed her with just a 58 percent approval rating among Republicans.)
That thinking led a couple of Republicans to jump into the race the early: Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones.
Williams is considered a top tier contender, but he likely won’t be alone there. Party sources say that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is likely to take a good look at the race and would be a major force to be reckoned with. The Texas legislature is currently in session for the next several months, and Dewhurst will be playing a high-profile role in the legislative efforts.
Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) — who is widely considered a rising star in Texas politics – is also a possibility to jump in the race. All three of those contenders — Williams, Dewhurst and Abbott — would be very capable fundraisers.
Another top candidate who had been positioning himself for the race in recent days is Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Leppert is an ally of Hutchison and was said to only be interested in the race if Hutchison retired. Earlier this week, Leppert said he would not seek re-election as mayor, setting off speculation that he was preparing for a statewide run.
A second Railroad Commissioner, Michael Williams (R), is also said to be looking at the race. An African-American Republican, Williams formed an exploratory committee when it looked like Hutchison would vacate her seat to run for governor. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) endorsed Williams at the time, and he has strong appeal with national conservatives.