The retirement of U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl will likely set off a chain reaction, as Republicans and Democrats position themselves to run for the open seat.
“This is a political earthquake on multiple levels,” said political strategist Kurt Davis. “Open Senate seats are rare. There will obviously be a lot of political jockeying, and that will have a ripple effect on other political offices.”
Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, announced Feb. 10 that he will not seek re-election to a fourth term in 2012.
“I think it’s better to leave when people have a very good attitude about you, rather than be hounded out of office like so many,” he told reporters at a hastily organized press conference in a Phoenix hotel meeting room.
“There is more to life than being in the United States Senate. Some people stay too long and there are other things to do in life.”
Kyl was first elected to the U.S. House in 1986. In 1994, he was elected to the Senate, where he replaced Democrat Dennis DeConcini. He said he and his family first discussed the possibility that he would retire after his last re-election campaign in 2006.
He said he has no intention to run for any other public office after he retires.
Most political observers believe U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Mesa, will soon announce he is running to replace Kyl. Davis said other potential GOP candidates include U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg and the entire slate of Republican statewide officeholders.
At least one of those is already saying she isn’t interested in replacing Kyl. Gov. Jan Brewer said she won’t be a candidate.
“Arizona faces serious issues and needs a full-time governor, and I intend to see this state’s recovery to completion,” she said in a written statement thanking Kyl for his service to the state.
In Democratic circles, potential candidates include Jim Pederson, whom Kyl defeated in 2006, former Gov. Janet Napolitano, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke, former U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell and longtime Democratic operative Fred Duval.
Perhaps the ideal Democratic candidate, however, is U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in early January and is recovering in a Houston rehabilitation center.
“If [the shooting] hadn’t occurred, Gabby would have been great,” said Rep. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat.
And those are only the well-known political names.
“There’s always a surprise candidate who jumps into these races,” said Gibson McKay, a Valley political consultant.
For instance, in last year’s contest to replace Shadegg in CD3, political gadflies were surprised by the candidacies of wealthy businessman Steve Moak and eventual winner Ben Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle.
If current officeholders on either side of the aisle enter the Senate race, it will open up vacancies in other offices, which could trigger further jockeying among potential candidates.
Shadegg’s announcement last year resulted in three legislators resigning their seats to run for Congress. Were Flake or Franks to enter the Senate race, Republicans in those congressional districts would immediately begin positioning themselves for congressional bids.
“I think there’s a possibility that even more people resign from the Legislature to run for Congress because of this than we saw last year,” said Brett Mecum, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.