Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Retire

In Reapportionment, Senate on January 14, 2011 at 8:25 am

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) made official yesterday what has been expected now for years, that she won’t seek re-election in 2012. She twice promised to resign her seat mid-term, only to change her mind as political circumstances became altered.

Prior to running for Governor in 2010, the senator said she would resign in order to challenge fellow Republican Rick Perry. Gov. Perry came to office at the end of 2000, succeeding then-Gov. George W. Bush upon his election as President. Subsequently deciding to serve through the primary, Sen. Hutchison then said she would resign once the nomination was decided. The result: Perry out-polled Hutchison by 20 points, securing re-nomination against his two opponents by winning an outright majority, thereby even avoiding a run-off election. The defeat was a crushing one for Hutchison, who began the race as the most popular elected official in the Lone Star State. After the primary, and adhering to the request of Republican Party leaders who wanted to avoid a costly special Senate election, Hutchison again changed her mind about leaving Washington and decided to serve the remaining portion of her third, and now final, full term in office.

Since Republicans took total control of the state in the 1990s and early 2000s, Democrats have continued to maintain that they can again be competitive in statewide elections. They site the huge Hispanic population (maybe as high as 37% in the new census) and polling data that, as it turns out, has regularly under-estimated Republican strength. This was definitely the story for the closest statewide R vs. D contests during the latter part of the decade: Sen. John Cornyn’s 2008 and Gov. Perry’s 2010 re-election campaigns. Cornyn won a 55-43% victory and Perry’s result was a similar 55-42%, hardly campaigns that can be considered hotly contested.

It is important to remember that Texas has 29 statewide offices, including administrative and judicial positions. All 29 are in Republican hands. The congressional delegation is 23R-9D, and will grow to a total of 36 seats in the next election because of reapportionment; the state Senate Republican margin is 19-12; and, after two Democrats switched parties in the past couple of weeks, the state House is now an overwhelming 101 Republicans to 49 Democrats.

Under this backdrop, an open Texas Senate seat will come to the forefront of the ensuing election cycle. Since Hutchison has been planning to vacate her seat for some time, candidates in both parties have been making moves to position themselves.

When Hutchison said her resignation was imminent, most of the appointment speculation centered around Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The Texas Lt. Governor, who actively presides over the state Senate, is the nation’s most powerful Lt. Governor. Dewhurst has held the position since 2002, after being elected Land Commissioner in 1998. He was re-elected in 2010 with 62% of the vote. He has yet to indicate whether he will run for the Senate in 2012. Other Republicans who are already in the race are former Secretary of State Roger Williams and Railroad Commissioner (another Texas statewide office) Elizabeth Ames Jones. Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams is also viewed as a sure candidate.

The Democrats are looking to former state Comptroller John Sharp, even though he has lost his past two elections, both for Lt. Governor, against Rick Perry (1998) and versus Dewhurst (2002).

The eventual Republican nominee will be a heavy favorite in the general election against presumably Sharp.
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