The XX Factor

“No Incumbent Is Safe”

Yesterday we learned that the only woman to ever represent the state of Texas in the Senate won’t be running for re-election. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced that she will retire at the end of her term , throwing what will be a brutal race to replace her (a “humdinger” in her words) wide open.

It’s hard to know exactly why K.B.H. decided to head home. She says she wants to live with her family in Texas, and she did try to transfer her work there last year, with an unsuccessful bid for governor. Hutchison has two young children, and as early as 2002, she was saying she felt “like a pinball sometimes, being jerked around in all directions.” So I suppose it’s possible that this time, that old saw about wanting to spend more time with her family is actually true.

But it’s also true that if she had run again, she would have been primaried, and she almost certainly would have lost. Hutchison won her 2000 re-election bid with a record 4 million votes, but those days are long gone. During her ill-advised gubernatorial campaign, Texas Governor for Life Rick Perry managed to paint the steadfast senator as an over-entitled Beltway bandit. Texas’ favorite politician became the “Earmark Queen,” and the rest was Tea Party history. By this week, her approval rating was less than 50 percent in Texas, causing Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen to marvel that there is “a new reality for Republican Senators - pretty much no incumbent is safe if these folks [Tea Partiers] decide to target them.”

So what now? If I were drafting my dream team for the senatorial slate, I’d have Tea Party dark horse Debra Medina fight a bruising GOP nomination battle with one of the Republicans’ deep-pocked big boys, maybe former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, just because he seems to want it so badly. (Williams has been openly coveting the seat for years, and when Hutchison announced her retirement, an aide interrupted him in the middle of a speech to whisper, “Game on.” ) That would provide some clarity about exactly how Texas Republicans see themselves. If the Lone Star State’s moderates didn’t like what they see, they could throw their support to the Democrat in the race (former Houston mayor Bill White , as long as we’re making things up) and maybe, just maybe, pull off the upset of 2012 .

Probably none of this will happen. But a Texas girl can dream.