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Texas Lt. Governor in Running for Open Senate Seat

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has announced he is considering running for Senate in 2012, and is likely the top candidate in the newly open race to replace Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison hours after she announced her retirement.

“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,” Dewhurst said in a statement Thursday.

The size of the GOP primary field may be directly tied to whether he runs. Republicans are expecting a large number of candidates, but Dewhurst’s personal wealth, four statewide elections and home in Houston’s Harris County, the largest in the state, gives him the early edge.

“He has spent the money, he’s independently wealthy, he’s raised the money — he’s the person I would think is the frontrunner,” longtime Texas-based GOP consultant Bryan Eppstein told Roll Call. “The race will attract a broader field if Dewhurst is not in, and a thinner field if he runs.”

Other names in the Republican mix include Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Rep. Joe Barton, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones and former Secretary of State Roger Williams.

Leppert is expected to announce his plans in the next couple of weeks, though that could be confined to just saying that he will not run for re-election. If he were to announce his Senate candidacy, he would be forced to resign as mayor before his term ends in June. The filing deadline for the mayoral race is in one month and the election in May.

Barton spokesman Sean Brown told Roll Call that the 14-term Congressman is considering a bid. Barton ran against Hutchison in a 1993 special Senate election, finishing third behind Hutchison and Democrat Bob Krueger.

“It’s definitely something he’ll think about,” Brown said. “He needs to sit down with his wife and family, discuss his future and any new options that come up.”

Michael Williams, a conservative tea party favorite, formed an exploratory committee in 2009 when it was believed Hutchison would leave her seat following her gubernatorial campaign. Instead, after losing the Republican primary to Gov. Rick Perry, Hutchison decided to keep her seat. Hutchison’s retirement announcement Thursday was no surprise, and recent polls showed her popularity has declined in the past two years back home.

In 2010, Dewhurst ran for a third term as lieutenant governor and won more than 60 percent of the vote. He was elected state land commissioner in 1998.

Jones was elected to three terms in the state House of Representatives before being appointed to the Texas Railroad Commission in 2005. A year later, she won election to a full term as commissioner. Roger Williams is a small-businessman and was appointed secretary of state in 2005. Considered a top fundraiser in the state, he’s worked on several campaigns for President George W. Bush and Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

On the Democratic side, former state Comptroller John Sharp and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Bill White are currently the only two names being floated. White said Thursday he will not run. Despite the Republican lean of the state, Democrats said Hutchison’s seat is one, as of now, they believe they can compete for.

“The 2010 cycle was full of surprises, and it turns out 2012 will have some twists and turns as well: The first Senate retirement is a Republican,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz said. “We look forward to running a competitive race in Texas as the Lone Star State is now one of several Democratic pickup opportunities next November.”

Roll Call Politics had rated this race Safe Republican, but given that it’s now an open seat, the race is likely to be less predictable until the field is set.

Hutchison said in a letter to supporters, first reported by the Dallas Morning News, that she is making her announcement now to allow Republicans sufficient time to campaign for a seat that is expected to be hotly contested. The winner of the March 2012 Republican primary will likely be the favorite to win that year’s general election.

“I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2012,” she wrote. “That should give the people of Texas ample time to consider who my successor will be.”

Hutchison, who serves as an appointed adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was defeated last year in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Hutchison had long targeted the Texas governorship, and speculation began immediately following her loss that she would retire in 2012.

“Kay came to the Senate to make a difference, to work to find solutions to the complex problems of modern society, and to attain real and lasting change,” Cornyn said in a statement. “She has succeeded in brilliant fashion.”

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