Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced Thursday she won't seek reelection in 2012.
The three-term senator revealed her decision in an e-mail to supporters, noting that she had enjoyed her time in Washington but was looking forward to "living full-time in Texas with my family."
The timing of her announcement "should give the people of Texas ample time to consider who my successor will be," Hutchison wrote.
Democrats believe they now have an opportunity to make a run at Hutchison's seat in 2012. A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said Texas "is now one of several Democratic pick-up opportunities next November."
Hutchison had earlier sought to transition back to Texas. In August 2009, she announced her intention to challenge Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. She positioned herself as a centrist and accused Perry of mismanaging the state. Perry, meanwhile, labeled her "Kay Bailout" because of her support for the controversial 2008 financial bailout package.
She indicated at the time that she would leave her Senate seat to focus on the run, but she ultimately decided to remain in Washington. That decision may have impeded her challenge — she went on to lose the primary to Perry by more than 20 points.
Her political fortunes continued to wane afterward and many observers believed she would face a strong primary challenge this cycle.
Hutchison said she was considering retirement for some time.
"I intended to leave this office long before now, but I was persuaded to continue in order to avoid disadvantage to our state," she said. "The last two years have been particularly difficult, especially for my family, but I felt it would be wrong to leave the Senate during such a critical period."
She promised to keep working until the end of her term.
Republican John Cornyn, the junior senator from Texas, praised Hutchison as "an example to us all."
"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," he said in a statement. "She has succeeded in brilliant fashion."
Hutchison was the first woman to represent Texas in the Senate.