(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Phil Gramm's (R-Texas) announcement Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to a fourth term in that body drew mixed reaction on both sides of the aisle. Gramm joins Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in deciding not to seek re-election.
Reaction to Gramm's announcement was mixed, especially in his home state of Texas.
Gramm's Senate colleague, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said, "Phil and I have a great working relationship and I believe we have been an effective team for Texas. I would give him the highest possible praise: He is respected and feared. He will be missed in the U.S. Senate."
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told WFAA-TV in Fort Worth he thinks Gramm's departure is exciting for the two party political scene in Texas.
"The Democratic Party (in Texas) has a very strong statewide slate and the only thing that we are missing is a strong Senate candidate. Now, I believe we will attract a strong Senate candidate," Frost said.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said she isn't ruling out a possible run for Gramm's old seat.
"I always have all my options open," said Granger. "But I'm sorry to see Senator Gramm leave the Senate. He has done great work for the people of Texas. He's worked hard to cut taxes and balance the budget. His expertise will be missed."
Another possible Democratic candidate is Dallas, Texas Mayor Ron Kirk, but Kirk says he has not formed any campaign committee or raised any funds. He cannot run for mayor again because of term limits.
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said he will miss Gramm in the Senate. But predicts Gramm's seat will remain in Republican hands.
"We will miss our friend, Phil Gramm, in the Senate and during the 2002 elections. We all know, however, that Texas is Bush country and Gramm country, and we are confident that Texans will elect another strong, committed, and honorable Republican as their senator," Frist said in a statement.
House Republican Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said Gramm was one of his heroes.
"He's been on the side of taxpayers at every turn. He's often stood in the face of the worst gale for what he knew was right. He's leaving a big pair of boots to fill. Phil is one of my heroes. He is a man for whom I have unqualified respect, and we will miss him as our senator," Armey said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a survey released by Montgomery and Associates in Austin found that Texas Attorney General John Cornyn is the strongest Republican candidate among 1,035 Texans that were surveyed.
Coming in second was Texas Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, Congressman Henry Bonilla of San Antonio came in third and Texas Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza was fourth. "Undecided" was the real leader in the race, according to the Montgomery survey with 34.9 percent.
Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) has already hinted at a possible run for Gramm's seat.
"Senator Gramm's decision leaves big shoes to fill. I am flattered that my accomplishments have produced widespread support for a potential candidacy," Bonilla said in a statement. "Serving the state of Texas is an awesome opportunity. I am giving a Senate run very strong consideration at this time."
Bonilla praised Gramm's legacy. "Senator Gramm is a living legend and a person I greatly admire," he said. "With today's decision, our state loses one of its greatest advocates and strongest defenders. Senator Gramm's devotion to Texas is endless. His legacy will forever be a piece of Texas history."
Gramm was born on July 8, 1942, in Fort Benning, Georgia.
After becoming an economics professor at Texas A&M, Gramm launched his political career as a conservative Democrat.
He won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1978. While there he broke with the Democrats in January 1983 and quit the House to win election as a Republican a month later in a special election.
He was elected to the Senate in 1984 and was re-elected in 1990 and 1996. He won prominence in 1985 as the force behind the Gramm-Rudman law, a short-lived plan to balance the budget by 1991.
He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 1996. He withdrew before the New Hampshire primary in early 1996.
See Earlier Story:
Gramm Announces He Won't Seek Re-Election