Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said he won’t run for re-election next year, setting the stage for a contest between the two major U.S. parties to claim a seat in a competitive state.
Kyl, the second-ranking Senate Republican leader, said at a news conference in Phoenix there was “nothing negative” prompting his decision to retire at the end of his third six-year term.
“It’s time for me to have an opportunity to do something else” and give others a chance to serve in the Senate, Kyl said. “My heart says it’s time.”
As Senate minority whip, Kyl, 68, is the chief vote-counter for Republicans, a post he was slated to give up next year. He served four terms in the House before his 1994 election to the Senate, where he has been a key architect of the Republican agenda in recent years, including the push for tax cuts.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that, while Kyl’s retirement will be a “big loss,” he will remain for the next two years “helping us fight for the right kind of America.” McConnell spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference today in Washington.
Fellow Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said on Twitter that Kyl “will be missed.”
Kyl, a member of the Judiciary Committee, played a major role in opposing President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, both of whom won Senate confirmation.
Leader on Immigration
The Arizonan has been a Republican leader on immigration, pushing for strict border-security measures. He also backed former President George W. Bush’s unsuccessful effort to give the nation’s millions of illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status.
Kyl said today he will use his remaining time in the Senate to continue work on immigration and overhauling the tax code.
In a letter to supporters, he said he isn’t retiring from politics and still plans to help other elected officials and advance his views. “My desire to advance conservative principles is the animating force in my life,” Kyl wrote.
He was the fifth senator to decide against seeking another term next year. The others are Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jim Webb of Virginia and Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Republican Representative Jeff Flake said he is considering running for Kyl’s seat and will decide soon, based on whether he thinks he can win.
“This is Kyl’s day, and we’ll have an announcement soon enough,” Flake told reporters just off the House floor.
Arizona Representative Trent Franks, a Republican, also said he’s “seriously considering” a run.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, is a possible Democratic contender.
Both parties said they will make an intense bid for Kyl’s seat. While Republicans hold a voter registration advantage over Democrats in Arizona, there’s a sizable swing contingent of independents that can tip the balance in either party’s favor, said pollster and former Arizona State University Professor Bruce Merrill.
“It’s a battleground state, mainly because the division of party now is about one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third independent -- and the independents control the balance of power,” Merrill said.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican Senate campaign chief, said in a statement he is “confident that this seat will remain in” his party’s hands.
Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Kyl’s decision “instantaneously catapulted Arizona to a prime pickup opportunity” for Democrats.
The last Democrat elected to the Senate from Arizona was Dennis DeConcini in 1988.