Let the games begin. This will have an enormous effect on Arizona politics in late 2011 and 2012. Republicans and Democrats will start jockeying now for the seat.
My wild guess for who will face off in November 2012: Republican Paul Babeu Jeff Flake (I changed my mind) vs. Democrat Gabrielle Giffords (or Kyrsten Sinema if GG decides against it as she continues to recover from her TBI).
From the Arizona Republic:
U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl announced Thursday that he will not seek a fourth term in 2012, sparking a scramble in Arizona for the state’s first open senate seat in nearly two decades.
Kyl, 68, the Senate Republican whip and one of the highest-profile Capitol Hill critics of President Barack Obama’s agenda, made the stunning announcement at a quickly convened news conference in Phoenix. His decision also has implications beyond Arizona, with Democrats fighting to retain their slim majority in the Senate in 2012 and Republicans looking to win control.
He said he is leaving because it is time to do something different.
“Let me hasten to say that there is nothing negative about the decision that I am making,” Kyl said. “My health is good. I’m fairly confident that if I ran for re-election again that I could be re-elected. I do not subscribe to this notion that politics has gotten so coarse these days that civil people can’t engage in it. I try to do it civilly, and learned long ago that there will be people who don’t engage in civil discourse, but if you (let that stop you) from serving, then you really ought to get into another line of work. There’s nothing about that that causes me to step down. … There is no reason, other than the fact that I think it’s time.”
He said immigration reform is among the issues he would like to tackle in the time he has left in office. He ruled out bids for governor or president but reiterated that he would consider a vice presidential nomination.
His wife Caryll Kyl quipped that “he’ll do yardwork” when he retires.
A decision had been expected for weeks, as speculation swirled in Washington and Arizona about whether the No. 2 Senate Republican would retire or run again. But while some took Kyl’s reluctance to discuss his future plans as a sign he was considering retirement, most local GOP insiders were expecting him to launch a new campaign. A statewide poll released last week showed Kyl positioned to easily defeat a number of hypothetical Democratic challengers, including former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Kyl becomes the second senator this week to announce that he will not seek re-election. On Wednesday, freshman Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said he would not run for another term in 2012. Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also have announced their retirements.
Word of an open Senate seat in Arizona, which has not seen a Senate vacancy since Sen. Dennis DeConcini declined to seek re-election in 1994, will stir a frenzy of interest from potential candidates in both parties. U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., last week told The Republic that he is interesting in running if Kyl does not. Former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., also has said that he might consider a Senate run.
Other possible Republican contenders mentioned by GOP insiders include U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, former state Treasurer Dean Martin and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. On the Democratic side, Napolitano, who is now Obama’s Homeland Security secretary; former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson; and 2010 state attorney general nominee Felecia Rotellini have been mentioned as possibilities. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., frequently was mentioned as a possible, perhaps even likely, Senate candidate prior to a Jan. 8 assassination attempt near Tucson that left her seriously injured.
Kyl said he intends to help GOP Senate colleagues and GOP challengers retake the Senate in 2012.
The son of an Iowa congressman and a former attorney specializing in water law, Kyl has been active in Arizona GOP politics since the 1960s. He first won a seat in Congress in 1986, succeeding U.S. Rep. Eldon Rudd, R-Ariz. In 1994, Kyl defeated U.S. Rep. Sam Coppersmith, D-Ariz., to win the seat vacated by DeConcini, D-Ariz., who retired after three terms. Kyl faced only nominal opposition in 2000 (the Democrats failed to even field a candidate against him) but in 2006 found himself in a no-holds-barred battle against Pederson, an independently wealthy retail developer who largely self-funded his campaign. Despite an extremely hostile national climate for Republicans, Kyl prevailed.
While in the Senate, Kyl helped negotiate and facilitate several landmark water settlements, including the historic Arizona Water Settlements Act signed into law in 2004 by President George W. Bush.
He also sits on the influential Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.
“(Kyl is) one of the most effective members of the committee and a leader of the committee,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the Judiciary Committee’s ranking GOP member, told The Republic in a 2009 interview.
Kyl will leave the Senate while on top.
When elected GOP whip in late 2007, Kyl became the highest-ranking Arizonan on Capitol Hill since the late GOP Rep. John Rhodes was House minority leader 1973 to 1981. Before Rhodes, Sen. Ernest McFarland, D-Ariz., served as Senate majority leader from 1951 to 1953.
The recent automated telephone poll of 599 Arizona voters that suggested he’d beat Napolitano and other top Democrats also found his job-approval numbers in solid shape. The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., found 47 percent of respondents saying they approved of Kyl’s job performance. Another 40 percent disapproved while 13 percent weren’t sure. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Kyl said it was an “absolute honor” to represent the people of Arizona.
“I will tell you that I’m not going anywhere over the course of the next 22 months. If anything, my ability to focus on my job, and not have to worry about the things that you have to do when you are running a campaign for re-election, should free me up to have even more time in these last 22 months or so to do the best job that I can. And I’m going to remain active in politics.”