Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Step Down

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 3:02 PM

Update, 3:35 p.m.: A source close to Perry predicts the special election will be held before May, noting that the governor has the sole authority to decide when the race will be run and believes the state needs a full time senator sooner rather than later. Developing....

Original Post

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-Texas) announcement that she will resign her seat this fall sets off a rare Senate special election next spring.

"The actual leaving of the Senate will be sometime -- October, November -- that, in that time frame," Hutchison told Mark Davis, a conservative talk radio host in Dallas, this morning.

Hutchison had long been expected to resign from the Senate to focus full time on her challenge to Gov. Rick Perry (R) in next March's primary although some national Republicans held out hope that she might stay in the Senate. (She doesn't have to resign to run thanks to Fix Political Hall of Fame member Lyndon Baines Johnson.)

When Hutchison makes her resignation official, Gov. Rick Perry (R) could -- and Republicans observers believe will -- appoint a successor for the few months before what is expected to be a May primary to coincide with already scheduled municipal elections. (Predicting who Perry might pick is a fool's errand given that the choice will be so freighted with calculations about his gubernatorial fight against Hutchison.)

Regardless of who Perry picks, Republican strategists see the strength of their field as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Attorney General Greg Abbott. There is a sense in Texas Republican circles that both men won't run, choosing instead to work it out between them.

Dewhurst, on paper, would be the preferred candidate given that he has not only been elected statewide but also has immense personal wealth that he could spend on a bid. But, Abbott is a well known and well liked figure among the conservative base, which could help with turnout -- always an issue in special elections.

Other names mentioned on the Republican side include former Secretary of State Roger Williams, Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones and state Sen. Florence Shapiro.

The Democratic fight is between former state Comptroller John Sharp, who has twice run for and lost bids for lieutenant governor, and Houston Mayor Bill White.

National strategists regard White as the (slightly) stronger of the two candidates given his name ID in the expensive Houston media market and what they believe to be a non-partisan profile statewide. Both White ($3.3 million on hand) and Sharp ($2.9 million on hand) have been actively raising money for the race for months.

While the dynamics of special elections are notoriously unpredictable, Democrats have to be considered long-shots to win the seat for two reasons.

First, Texas is reliably Republican territory; John McCain carried the Lone Star State with 55.5 percent of the vote in 2008 and the last time Democrats won a major statewide race was in 1990 when Ann Richards was elected governor.

Second, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) will do absolutely everything in his power to keep a seat in his home state under Republican control -- spending whatever it takes to ensure a GOP victory.

The spending question is actually the one to watch. Republicans must now defend six open seats in 2010 and the Texas special has the potential to drain their coffers just over six months before the midterms.

If national Republicans have to spend $5 million or more to hold the Texas seat, it should be considered a victory of sorts for Democrats. That much money to hold a reliably Republican seat means that those millions won't be spent on playing offense in places like Illinois, Connecticut, Nevada and Colorado.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company