- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2011

Democratic officials said Monday that retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is expected to run for U.S. Senate in Texas, giving Democrats a high-profile recruit to fill the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations with Gen. Sanchez.

Gen. Sanchez was commander of coalition forces in Iraq when revelations about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib became public. He gave up his command in June 2004 and has since maintained that he never authorized torture at the prison. He retired from the military in 2006, blaming the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Last week, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said she expected to field a strong candidate in Texas. Two Democratic officials with firsthand knowledge of Mrs. Murray’s plans, said she was referring to Gen. Sanchez.

Late Monday afternoon, Gen. Sanchez released a statement saying he would make a final decision on the race with his family “in the coming weeks,” adding that “I believe Texas is in need of strong, independent leaders that can address the enormous challenges we are facing.”

While Gen. Sanchez would be the first prominent Democrat in the race, Republicans have lining up for a shot at the seat. Front-runners include Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and current Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.

Despite the taint of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Democrats see Gen. Sanchez as a credible candidate, citing his military background, centrist bona fides, a growing pool of Hispanic voters and a potentially fractious Republican primary.

Republicans said Monday that they would seek to tie Gen. Sanchez to President Obama in a state that went overwhelmingly for John McCain in 2008.

“Whomever the Democrats ultimately nominate, Republicans can only hope that person campaigns side-by-side with Barack Obama in Texas and national Democrats decide to spend millions of dollars in the Lone Star State,” said Brian Walsh a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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