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Hutchison Opts for Policy; Ensign Vice Chair

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) will seek to chair the Republican Policy Committee after the 2006 elections, setting up — for now — a top-to-bottom slate of GOP leadership candidates running without opposition.

Hutchison’s decision came after a day of talks with a pair of potential competitors for leadership posts, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.).

The trio settled on an arrangement in which Kyl, currently the Policy chairman, will run for Conference chairman, and Ensign, who was originally seeking Policy, will instead run for the Conference vice chairmanship.

“She’s excited about the opportunity to not just communicate, but also help craft the conference’s policy,” said Chris Paulitz, spokesman for Hutchison, confirming her decision to run for Policy chairwoman.

Her current leadership position, vice chairwoman of the GOP Conference, involves Hutchison in the delivery of the message and overseeing the communications operation, including outreach to K Street and organizing floor speakers during the chamber’s “morning hour” on topics of the day. The Policy chairman oversees a large staff charged with crafting issue statements and measuring the impact legislative proposals would have.

Hutchison’s move temporarily ends what might have been a bruising leadership race pitting her against either Kyl or Ensign. Term-limited in the vice chairman post, Hutchison had been eyeing either chairing the Conference or the Policy Committee.

But both Kyl and Ensign had begun publicly campaigning for those two posts while Hutchison pondered returning to Texas to run for governor, a race that she stepped back from Friday.

By running for Policy, Hutchison is trying to move up to the next rung on the leadership ladder, going from the No. 5 spot to No. 4. And Kyl is attempting to move from No. 4 to No. 3.

The key move in this scenario was Ensign’s decision to stand down from his bid for Policy and to instead reach for the lowest spot in leadership.

“They all agreed that that’s what each of them wanted to do,” said Jack Finn, Ensign’s spokesman. “It’s good to know that each of them will have a defined path to leadership.”

With almost 17 months to go before leadership elections are held in November 2006, challengers could emerge to any of the leadership positions opening up next Congress, mostly because of the chain reaction of events prompted by Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) decision to retire next year.

For now, however, there is one publicly announced candidate for each of the five legislative GOP leadership positions: Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) for Majority Leader, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) for Majority Whip, Kyl for Conference chairman, Hutchison for Policy Committee and Ensign for vice chairman of the Conference.

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