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.