U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Wednesday she will step down this fall to challenge fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry for governor in 2010, setting the stage for what will be a crowded race to replace her.
Hutchison told WBAP radio in an interview that she'll quit the Senate in October or November, signaling that she will return to Texas full time to campaign for the governorship as soon as this fall. She reiterated that she would formally declare her candidacy in August.
"Then the actual leaving of the Senate will be some time -- October, November -- that, in that time frame," Hutchison said.
The Republican primary is in March 2010. The winner of that race will be heavily favored in the general election.
Hutchison told WBAP she is still working in Washington to fight President Barack Obama's health care plan and a cap-and-trade proposal on greenhouse gas emissions.
"I am trying to do everything that I can while I am in office to responsibly serve as a senator. But it is hard because my heart is in Texas," she said. "There are so many things that I think we have not done in Texas that we need to do. I think we need new leadership in Texas."
A spokesman for Perry said Hutchison is breaking a promise by not remaining in the Senate for her full term, which expires in 2012.
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"Today it's clear that she's put her own political ambitions over the needs of the people of Texas," Mark Miner said.
He said Perry is prepared for her challenge.
"We've been ready to go since Day One," Miner said. "She's the one who has announced three times that she's going to announce (her candidacy)."
As governor, Perry gets to select an interim senator to fill Hutchison's seat once she leaves. He could call a special election in November or May 2010, depending on when she steps down and how much lead time he has to order the election, according to laws cited by the Texas Secretary of State's Office.
Miner said Perry would call a special election as soon as possible.