WASHINGTON — Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said today he is "very confident" that Republicans will hold onto Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat while predicting a "free-for-all" special election to replace her.
Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, gave his assessment of the 18 Republican and 18 Democratic seats that will be decided in 2010 — and, when asked, talked about the 19th — the Republican Texas seat that Hutchison said she'll give up in October or November.
"I am very confident that we will hold onto that seat," Cornyn said. As to who might be the replacement, "I don't think all the candidates are in the race yet."
Cornyn said he immediately spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry after Hutchison's announcement last week about her Senate retirement. She plans to challenge Perry in the Texas Republican primary next year.
Perry would appoint an interim successor. Presumed front-runner Lt. Gov. Dave Dewhurst visited with Cornyn last week while Dewhurst was in the nation's capital at a convention of lieutenant governors.
"He'd be a strong candidate," said Cornyn, who did not specifically endorse Dewhurst, noting that there are a number of candidates and "there may be some more."
"I think a special election is a different animal," Cornyn said, and it gives "opportunities for people who are better known." Under Texas law, Perry appoints an interim senator and then schedules a special election. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote; the top two vote-getters then have a run-off.
However, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution is scheduled to vote Thursday on a Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit gubernatorial appointments to the Senate. The panel's chairman, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced the bill earlier this year after the seeming "selling" of a Senate vacancy by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill.
Cornyn said that he's against the proposal. "Quick special elections would not serve the public very well," he said.