WASHINGTON — Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison emphatically said no, no, no, to speculation that she may wind up as John McCain's running mate, and instead is aiming toward a possible run for Texas governor in 2010.
"I don't want to be vice president," the Texas Republican said during a brief interview on Capitol Hill this week. "I'm going in a totally different direction."
Although she added that "it's a little early to be talking about 2010," she acknowledged, "That's certainly the direction I'd like to go."
Talk of Hutchison landing on the Republican presidential ticket escalated in recent weeks after publisher Steve Forbes, who's twice run for president, touted her as a likely choice for McCain, who's closing in on the nomination and is overwhelmingly favored to win the Texas primary Tuesday.
"She is obviously a very strong elected official, and the consensus in Texas is that she would be a very strong addition to a presidential ticket," said Republican consultant Reggie Bashur of Austin. "I don't think there is any question that Senator Hutchison will be on the short list."
Hutchison, 64, was elected to the Senate in 1993 and backed away from challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the 2006 Republican primary. She ran for re-election instead, and won with 62 percent of the vote. Perry, who's been governor since late 2000, could seek re-election in 2010, since there are no term limits on the office. But he hasn't declared his intentions.
Jim Francis, a Dallas businessman and Republican fund-raiser who was a co-chairman of Hutchison's 2006 re-election bid, said he understood "why people would speculate why she would be a good running mate." But, he added, "she doesn't want to be a running mate."
"Kay has repeatedly said she's not interested in the position, that she's not seeking the position, that she's not campaigning for the position, that she doesn't want the position," Francis said.
Asked about a run for governor, he said, "I think that is her current plan."
Another Hutchison confidant, Republican consultant Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth, said that supporters from across the state were urging her to run for governor, adding that she probably won't make a decision until after the November election. Hutchison has said repeatedly that she won't seek re-election to the Senate.
Despite her insistence that she has no interest in the vice presidency, political experts said Hutchison probably would rethink her position if McCain offered her the second spot on the ticket.
"When you look at her track record of putting duty first, it would be a consideration that she would take very seriously," Eppstein said.
Hutchison's name surfaced early as Republican strategists looked for ways to pre-empt Hillary Clinton's appeal as a front-running female presidential candidate. Although that rationale has weakened with Clinton's struggles against Democratic opponent Barack Obama, the Democratic race isn't over, and analysts said Hutchison would bring other attributes, including conservative credentials that would help offset McCain's low appeal among conservatives.
"It's not surprising that she would be on a lot of lists," said political analyst Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research center in Washington. "If you're running against a path-breaking woman candidate or a path-breaking African-American candidate, you have to think about doing something bold, and putting a woman on the ticket is one way to do that."
"You also have to look for somebody that is going to be acceptable to conservatives and not frighten the center," he said. "Kay Bailey fits some of those characteristics."
Presidential scholar Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, recently included Hutchison on a list of about 20 potential running mates. As advantages, Sabato described Hutchison as a solid conservative — except for her moderate views on abortion — and a woman with long political experience.
But there are disadvantages, Sabato said. As the senior senator from President Bush's home state, Hutchison "adds little electorally" since Republicans probably would carry Texas anyway. And given the president's low approval rating, being from "the Bush-whacked Lone Star State" may not be a plus, Sabato suggested.