Three-term Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, announced Wednesday that she will serve out the remainder of her term, which ends in 2012.

The 66 year-old, having lost a bruising gubernatorial primary in which a national wave of anti-Washington sentiment overwhelmed the senator, was widely expected to retire early - but in a turn has decided to stay. "I think everyone pretty much knows that I had intended to leave the Senate, certainly intended to leave in the last year," Hutchison told reporters in San Antonio.

Hutchison cited spiraling government debt, concerns over the health care bill, and high unemployment as reasons to remain in Washington. "My experience will be better used fighting this effort of the president, and Congress to do so much that it's really taking away the essence of America, in my opinion. So I think for the long-term, for my children, I think it is better that I stay and serve out my term."

In 2012, after serving out her Senate seat -- Hutchison, a proponent of term limits, is also expected to call it quits from the chamber she has called her office since 1993 when the political neophyte was catapulted onto the national stage following the retirement of Lloyd Benson. She won a special election among a crowded field of better-known candidates.

The senator, who is also the most senior GOP female in the body (1 of 17 women, total), was joined by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the junior senator from the Lone Star state, John Cornyn, who also doubles as the head of the 2010 GOP campaign arm. McConnell and Cornyn were already in town for a fundraiser.

"If you sense an audible sigh of relief in the air, it's every single Republican in the U.S. Senate conference," McConnell said after Hutchison announced her intentions to stay.

Hutchison, once a member of Senate GOP leadership and thought to be among a short list of vice presidential picks in a handful of past presidential elections, is the top Republican on the Commerce Committee and is a strong proponent of NASA. She also sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee, as well as the Veterans' Affairs and Rules Committees.

The senator kept her seat in Congress as she ran for governor, saying that she wanted to stay to fight President Obama's health care reform effort.

Hutchison has an adopted son and daughter who live with her husband in the couple's home in Dallas. During the 2010 campaign for governor, she put her home in Virginia up for sale, with the campaign saying at the time, "She's no longer going to be in the United States Senate. She's coming home to Texas."

FOX News' April Girouard contributed to this report.