Arizona Republican Sen. Kyl Won't Seek Re-Election

By Bob Christie | February 10, 2011 | 4:36 PM EST

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., announces his retirement, effective Jan. 2013, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, in Phoenix. Kyl has served in the U.S. Senate since 1994. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix (AP) - Arizona Republican Jon Kyl said Thursday he won't seek re-election to a fourth term in the U.S. Senate in 2012, creating another open seat as Republicans try to take back control.

Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said at a news conference that it was time to give someone else a shot at the seat he's held since 1994.

"There is no other reason than the fact it is time," Kyl said of his decision to retire after 2012. "It is time for me to do something else and time to give someone else a chance."

Kyl, 68, whose father was a congressman from Iowa, served 10 years in the U.S. House before being elected to the Senate. He was re-elected twice, most recently in 2006 when he beat developer Jim Pederson, a former state Democratic Party chairman.

"I think it's a big loss for the country," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said of his No. 2 while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of party activists. "The good news is that he'll be here for the next two years."

Kyl is the fifth senator to announce plans to retire, with Jim Webb, D-Va., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., all leaving after 2012.

Kyl said he'll spend the two years before he leaves office forming a coalition with other retiring senators to work without political pressures on issues like immigration reform and entitlements.

"I've already talked to Sen. Lieberman this morning about the possibility, now that we're two lame ducks, as it were," Kyl said. "And there are some other members of the Senate who are not running, both Republicans and Democrats. We might be able to get a little caucus together and move on some issues that are more difficult for others."

He said he does not know what he will do after leaving office, but it won't involve elected office.

"Some people stay too long, and there are other things to do in life," Kyl said. "I never expected to be in office for 26 years."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said Kyl's decision made the seat "a prime pickup opportunity."

Democrats have won several statewide races in the past decade, but Arizona Republicans still lead in voter registration and were hugely successful in the midterm elections.

"This is the Republican Party's seat to lose," said Doug Cole, a Republican political consultant who is an adviser and former campaign aide to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. "We have a deep bench of potential candidates whereas the other party's bench is lacking."

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been mentioned as a strong Democratic candidate for the seat before she was shot in the head at a political event one month ago.

Giffords is undergoing therapy at a Houston rehabilitation center, and her status as a potential candidate for re-election to the House or the Senate seat is unknown.

Kyl has a reputation as a hardworking conservative who toiled on home-state and national issues, particularly ones involving national defense and judiciary topics, while being overshadowed for years by the state's senior senator, fellow Republican John McCain.

"As a leader in the Senate and one of the most well respected members, he will be sorely missed," McCain said in a statement. "Jon will most assuredly go down in history as one of Arizona's most effective advocates in Washington."

Kyl most recently made headlines for his opposition to a U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty that was a top foreign policy priority of President Barack Obama.

He entered the Senate by winning a seat held by Democrat Dennnis DeConcini, who did not run for a fourth term.  He defeated Democrat Sam Coppersmith, a one-term U.S. representative, by a nearly 3-2 margin.

In 2000, Kyl cruised to re-election when Democrats didn't even bother putting up a candidate. Kyl crushed two minor party candidates and an independent. Six years later, Kyl had a roughly 150,000-vote edge over Pederson, out of roughly 1.5 million votes cast.

Pederson, a shopping center developer, sunk $10 million of his own money into the race.

Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for the seat include U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg and former state Treasurer Dean Martin.  Besides Giffords and Pederson, other Democrats whose names figure in speculation are former Gov. Janet Napolitano, currently the U.S. Homeland Security secretary, and current Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon.

A Republican aide who did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said Flake may be in the race soon. He'll make an announcement in the coming days, and there's a "strong likelihood" that he'll run for the seat, the aide told The Associated Press.

State Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny said his party has "a very, very strong chance of winning the seat. It's the first time we've had an open Senate seat in Arizona in 18 years. The Arizona of 2011 is very, very different from the state that elected Jon Kyl."

"We have a slew of top-tier Democrats who I know will look hard at running for the U.S. Senate," Cherny said.

Giffords, he said, is making an astounding recovery.

"She clearly has a hard road ahead of her, but I know that she is a fighter and I have every expectation that she is going to make a strong recovery and I believe as the months go forward, she will take a hard look at running for the U.S. Senate."

Arizona State University political science professor Patrick Kenney said Napolitano would be the strongest Democratic candidate, citing her three statewide election wins and probable strong fundraising ability.

But Kenney also said Napolitano would face attacks from Republicans for having quit in the middle of her second term as governor to go to Washington at the beginning of a state budget crisis.

Kyl said he announced his retirement now to give fellow Republicans who may want his seat time to raise money and formulate their campaign strategies. He does not plan to endorse a replacement, at least not now.

"I think it's probably going to be a pretty good year for Republicans," he said of the 2012 race. "We have a very strong bench of candidates who might want to seek the position. With all due respect to my Democratic friends, I don't think there are as many candidates on their side that would have the prospect of winning."


Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed.