updated 4/18/2011 5:08:15 PM ET 2011-04-18T21:08:15

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

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

Sanchez is a retired Army lieutenant general and 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 for his retirement.

Sanchez would become the first prominent Democrat to seek Hutchison's seat.

Last week, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said she expected to field a strong candidate in Texas. Two Democratic officials with first-hand knowledge of Murray's plans said she was referring to Sanchez.

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Late Monday afternoon, Sanchez released a statement saying he would make a final decision on the race with his family "in the coming weeks."

"I believe Texas is in need of strong independent leaders that can address the enormous challenges we are facing," Sanchez said. "I have spent my life dedicated to serving my country and I will always do what I can to strengthen Texas and America at home and abroad."

Republicans lining up
While Sanchez would be the only prominent Democrat so far in the race to replace Hutchison, Republicans have queuing up for a shot at the seat.

Front-runners include wealthy Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and current Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones. Other GOP candidates include former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Hutchison announced in January she would retire at the end of her current term.

Despite the taint of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Democrats believe Sanchez would be a credible candidate. They cite his military background, centrist bona fides, ability to tap into Texas money, a growing pool of Hispanic voters and a potentially fractious Republican primary.

Military service
Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a statement in which he spoke warmly of the retired general.

"General Sanchez has spent his entire life serving our country, and there's no question he would be a strong candidate if he decides to continue to serve his country in the U.S. Senate," Canter said. "He has a tremendous life story, growing up poor, rising to the rank of general in the Army, and bravely leading more than a hundred thousand troops in both Gulf Wars."

Sanchez served as the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. That time included the revelations about abuse at Abu Ghraib. Sanchez was never directly linked to wrongdoing — and has maintained he had no knowledge about events at the prison — but the issue is certain to come up if enters the race.

Since leaving the military, Sanchez has written a book and been publicly critical about U.S. military strategy in Iraq, particularly the surge. He has also called himself a "progressive" in one interview as well as a fiscal conservative.

Republicans said Monday that if Sanchez is the Democrats' nominee they would seek to tie him to President Barack Obama in a state that went overwhelmingly for John McCain in 2008.

"We look forward to hearing where he stands on the issues facing Texas and our country," said Brian Walsh a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. "But 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."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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