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Cornyn urges Hutchison to stay, keep Texas seat red

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is under tremendous pressure from her party to stay in the Senate while she runs for governor, and she appears prepared to do just that.

Texans are already lining up to replace Hutchison, but a spate of recent GOP retirements, along with the likelihood that Senate Democrats will be one seat away from a “filibuster-proof” 60-seat majority, have heaped pressure on her to remain in the Senate as she mounts a 2010 primary challenge to Gov. Rick Perry (R).

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Hutchison is not up for reelection until 2012, meaning she could retain her Senate job if she loses the gubernatorial primary.

Conversely, if she resigns early and gives Democrats a shot at 60 seats, it hands Perry a ready-made talking point for what is expected to be a pitched battle between the two Republicans.

Previously, Hutchison’s campaign has said that any resignation would come in late 2009, which would likely pave the way for a May 2010 special election.

But one insider said the forces are so strong that Hutchison is now leaning against resigning.

“There’s a lot of pressure on her to do the right thing and not allow Democrats to reach the 60-seat threshold,” the source said.

Still, Texas GOP sources noted Hutchison’s penchant for being unpredictable, and the senator is not giving any indication of her plans.

“I have not made decisions about that,” Hutchison said when asked about her potential resignation.
Hutchison downplayed the importance of 60 seats on her decision.

“There was a time when maybe that one vote would have made a difference, but we're talking May of next year and then a runoff, which would be June,” she said. “So we're talking about 2010 being a lot of different races that will make the difference.”

Reached Wednesday, Hutchison spokesman Todd Olsen was emphasizing and repeating the “if” part of the equation.

“She has said repeatedly that if she resigns, it would be late this year — if at all,” Olsen said. “That’s been her line since before the election, after the election, the day of the [gubernatorial] exploratory committee, and is so today.”

Hutchison’s Texas colleague, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE, as the new head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), happens to be very interested in whether Hutchison vacates her seat.

While talking at a press conference Wednesday about the recent retirements, Cornyn suggested he would prefer she stay in the Senate.

“There’s been some speculation that she might resign at some point, although I would point out that she does not have to,” Cornyn said. “She could run for governor as a sitting senator and even appoint her successor until a special election could be held later.”

A source close to Hutchison said the announcements by Houston Mayor Bill White (D) and others that they would run for the seat has created the false notion that Hutchison will resign soon.

The source acknowledged that the tough situation created by the retirements of GOP Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) has changed things for Hutchison.

All three races are in swing states, with large and expensive media markets, and national Democrats crushed Republicans in fundraising last cycle.

“I think there is, with the change happening all over the country — in Florida, Missouri and Ohio — there is and has always been a we-want-your-leadership-in-the-Senate” sentiment, the source said, before stating it another way: “There has not been any pressure for her to get out.”

{mospagebreak}The source said Hutchison is making it clear that she won’t leave Senate Republicans high and dry in a tough climate for the party.

White spokesman Mustafa Tameez said the mayor entered the race believing that Hutchison would resign.

“That’s what she said to her colleagues, that’s what she said to the public record,” Tameez said, adding that White is “running for United States Senate, whenever that election is.”

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White is in the race full-bore. Sources said he is expected to file a year-end financial report showing about $700,000 raised, without any contributions from the candidate. He is also embarking on a statewide speaking tour to introduce himself to voters outside of Houston.

In addition to White, Democratic former state Comptroller John Sharp has launched a campaign. On the GOP side, those running include state Sen. Florence Shapiro, former Texas Secretary of State Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave Republicans have spent .5 million at Trump properties since he took office: report MORE and state Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones.

Several other circumstances are also working against a Hutchison resignation, including the fact that her political adversary, Perry, would be able to appoint her successor.

Larry Hufford, a political science professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, said that and the 60-seat talking point should be reason enough for Hutchison to stay in the seat.

“It’s not Bill White she’s concerned about,” Hufford said. “It’s the internal battles” within the GOP.

About the only things Hutchison gains by resigning would be the ability to focus on the race at hand and to prove how devoted she is to that campaign. She has previously toyed with running for Texas’s top executive post, only to back out.

The Hutchison source said she would be announcing a large transfer from her Senate account to her gubernatorial account as soon as Thursday, which should take care of the latter question.

Hutchison had $8.7 million cash on hand in her Senate account at the end of September, and she has promised to transfer $1 million from her federal account to her gubernatorial campaign.

If Hutchison resigns before late September, the special election would be held in November. That would appear to favor the Democratic front-runner, White, as Houston holds its municipal elections that same day.

Resigning at the very end of September or later would push the special election to the next major election date, the following May.

The special election is a nonpartisan race with a runoff if no candidate achieves a majority of the vote.
Gerry Birnberg, the chairman of the Houston-based Harris County Democratic Party, said that a November 2009 special election would favor Democrats because of the turnout in Houston, and that a May 2010 election would favor Republicans because of lower turnout.

But he said the best option would likely be for Hutchison to stay in the seat.

“I can’t figure out why she resigns at all,” Birnberg said.

J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.