The Washington Post Web site reports this afternoon that President Bush’s longtime adviser and confidante will resign her position as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, which carries the rank of ambassador, before the end of the year. Here are the first two paragraphs from the story:

Karen P. Hughes, a longtime confidante of President Bush and one of the last remaining members of his Texan inner circle, announced her resignation today as the State Department’s public diplomacy chief.

Hughes, 50, informed her staff today that she is leaving by the end of the year, concluding a two-year tenure that has failed to reverse a decline in U.S. popularity abroad under the Bush administration. She said she plans to return to Texas.

Hughes’ return is sure to kick off speculation–here goes–that she may be a candidate for statewide office in 2010. She is returning to a state, and a Republican party, that is very different from the one she left. The state is much more polarized, and the Republican party is much more conservative, and much more prone to purge moderates, than when she left. The Bush name has lost a lot of its aura. But I do sense that the Bushies would like to see the state in friendlier hands; they are very critical of the current leadership. (Join the club.)

Dan Bartlett, newly signed on with Public Strategies, has expressed his interest in running for public office some day, and there’s been talk that Margaret Spellings might give it a try (I plan to ask her myself when she comes to town on Saturday). Hughes, though, was the rare staffer who had a constituency–the suburban soccer moms–from her work for the state Republican Party and from giving speeches and from being Bush’s alter ego and doing it well. It is possible that she has lost her taste for electoral politics–who can blame her?–and she can certainly make a living on honoraria alone. But I think she’d be a formidable candidate if she chooses to run.