WASHINGTON — Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had said that win or lose, she'd retire from Congress after Tuesday's gubernatorial primary. After the shellacking she got from Texas voters, however, friends, colleagues and analysts bet that she'll stay in the Senate — perhaps until 2012, when her term ends — to restore her political bonafides.
"This has got to be an incredibly emotional day for her," said Calvin Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "She took a hell of a beating. The only way for her to salvage the last paragraphs of her political biography is to stay on."
Despite the backing of several prominent Republicans, including former President George H.W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, Hutchison won only 30 percent of the vote. Incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who's been in office since succeeding then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, won 51 percent, enough to avoid a run-off, while a third candidate, Tea Party favorite Debra Medina, trailed with 19 percent.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Wednesday that he planned to ask Hutchison not to resign from the Senate.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"My pitch to her is that I think it's in the best interest of the state, in the best interest of the Republican Party and in her best interests, to stay in the Senate through the duration of her term, which is 2012," Cornyn said.
Asked about Hutchison's poor showing, Cornyn said, "Governor Perry was able to posture this as an 'Are you for Texas or are you for Washington?' race, and Senator Hutchison was painted as someone who represented Washington."
Cornyn said he's confident that if Hutchison were to resign and Perry appointed a Republican successor, the party would hold onto the seat in a special election. However, with the party facing 36 Senate races in November, he asked, "Why go through the uncertainty? Why go through the expense?"
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, spoke with Hutchison by phone Wednesday and said, "I communicated to her that I thought it was important that she stay in the Senate."
Hutchison said she'd consider it.
Hutchison, who was first elected to the Senate a 1993 special election, gave up a Republican leadership position to run for governor, but she still has key committee assignments. She's the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Bill Miller, an Austin consultant who advises both Democrats and Republicans said, "I would put money that she stays through her term — and she may very well run again."
Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said, "She can rebuild in the Senate. She's through in terms of being on the national ticket or governor."
For Hutchison, he said, "there was an attitude of 'it's my turn', which people never like." However, he said, Texans seem to like her in the Senate.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington