HOUSTON (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison defended her record as a no-frills conservative in an interview published Sunday as the Republican prepares to leave politics following a career that saw her become one of the nation's most prominent female lawmakers.

Hutchison, 69, will return to Dallas next month after nearly two decades in the Senate. The decision came after her failed bid in 2010 to oust Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had entered that primary battle appearing vulnerable against the popular Hutchison, only to handily win behind tea party support and anti-Washington fervor.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Hutchison said she spent her career disproving suspicions that she would wind up becoming a moderate -- a squish -- because of her gender.

I've had to go to huge lengths to prove that I was conservative, Hutchison told the newspaper. It was always assumed that I would be a squish. But I'm a no-frills conservative -- a solid regular mainstream conservative.

One of the Perry campaign's most effective tactics against Hutchison was painting her as Kay Bailout Hutchison for backing then-President George W. Bush's emergency bank bailout in 2008. The defeat left Hutchison to finish out her third term and surrender any dreams of being selected as a GOP nominee at the top of the party ticket.

Hutchison acknowledged last year that she would love to be in the arena but couldn't because of her family. Hutchison and her husband, Ray Hutchison, 80, have two adopted 11-year-old children, Bailey and Houston.

Senator Hutchison has always been the leading lady of Texas politics, but she has never been a knife fighter like Perry, said Cal Jillson, a scholar at Southern Methodist University.

Tea party darling Ted Cruz will take Hutchison's seat next month after successfully attacking the conservatism of his well-financed and once-favored challenger, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Hutchison's most durable accomplishment may well be her career as a trailblazer who helped move women from the margins of political power into the mainstream. When Hutchison arrived in 1993, the former state treasurer of Texas was among just six women in the Senate. Starting next month, a record 20 women will be sworn into the chamber.

As a state lawmaker, Hutchison was the first Republican woman elected twice to the Texas House and was the first woman to represent Texas in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, whose 25 years in the Senate is longer than any other woman, said Hutchison has remained a champion for Texas, an advocate for women and a true patriot.

I know her as my dear friend and a colleague deeply committed to creating a zone of civility among the women of the Senate, Mikulski said.

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