Will Senator Hutchison’s Resignation from the Senate be Her Legacy?

Posted: Aug 21, 2009 11:17 AM
With the impending resignation from the U.S. Senate by Kay Bailey Hutchison, some are speculating her career may end on a down note.
Texas has a history of being a one-party state.  Interestingly, though, that "one party" changed from Democratic to Republican.  

In 1960, LBJ was on the ballot twice – once as the Vice Presidential candidate and the other as candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Call it a true Texas "two-step" or the ultimate hedging of your bet, but Johnson knew how important power was and he wasn’t about to lose any bit of it. His opponent was the only Republican in the state brave enough to go against him, a thirty-five year old named John Tower.
Johnson won re-election to the senate, but Kennedy's presidential victory made LBJ the vice president, and set up a special election to replace him. Texas was as much a Democrat state back then as it is a Republican one today...simply put, the GOP didn’t win elections during the 50's and early 60's.
That all changed when several Democrats stepped up to fill the seat LBJ vacated, while the only GOP hope was John Tower.  Nobody thought a Republican could win in Democratic Texas. Sound like today, just reversed?.
The problem for Democrats, as it turned out, was that so many candidates wanted the open seat, including future Speaker of the House Jim Wright, that they overwhelmed the field and diluted the Democratic vote. Republicans, instead, coalesced behind one candidate -- and Tower took the Senate seat in a runoff. That election would serve as a spark to change the dynamics of Texas politics for decades.
With the win, Senator Tower made history by becoming the first Republican to become a U.S. senator from Texas since Reconstruction -- and the first one from the former Confederacy ever to win a popular election. It became a landmark in the turning of the tide in Texas.  To be sure, there were demographic and societal changes at play, but Texas' move Republican was clearly expedited by Johnson's departure from the senate.
Fast forward to today,  Texas is now thought of as one of the most reliable Republican states in the union. But Democrats do believe they can change things. One sign of this is the fact that the DNC will be holding its quarterly meeting in state Capital, Austin, this September

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine even included his optimism in an email to supporters: “Texas is an increasingly diverse state with a burgeoning and politically active Hispanic population that went strongly for Barack Obama in 2008…. (W)e have every reason to feel bullish about our chances in Texas.”
This becomes the problem for Kay Bailey Hutchison: Will she be blamed for turning Texas blue?

Rumors persist that there could be as many as ten Republicans running to fill her senate seat, versus only one announced Democrat. If those  ten do enough vote splitting, as happened back in 1961, they easily could hand Hutchison's senate seat over to a Democrat. That, in itself, would be a huge loss for the GOP.
Now throw into the mix Kay Bailey Hutchison’s own shock and awe campaign needed to defeat a member of her own party, she could in fact weaken Rick Perry enough to the point where Democrats could have a fighting chance to win the governorship as well.

This one decision by Senator Hutchison could have the most far-reaching implications in modern Texas political history.

Which makes one wonder, why? More often than not, when I talk to Texas political insiders, that question gets asked the most. Why does a sitting U.S. Senator risk destroying the very party she says she puts before her own personal desires?
On the trail, Hutchison has made it a point to criticize Perry for putting the Texas GOP in peril, but now, KBH's own seat could be the biggest gift the Democrats could ever ask for.
We hear all the time about Republicans being their worst enemy.  This personal agenda by Senator Hutchison only goes to reinforce that argument. The easiest solution, however, is for Kay Bailey to forgo a run for governor and stay in the senate. The campaign has been a disaster so far, and the results could be even more disastrous.