Giffords Is Seen as Shoo-In for Kyl's Seat; Considered Run before Shooting

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Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Any discussion of who's likely to succeed outgoing Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona needs to factor in the following: If Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wants the seat, it's hers.

The three-term Democratic congresswoman explored the idea of running for the Senate seat in the event of Mr. Kyl's retirement before she was shot Jan. 8 at a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson. Her rehabilitation from a gunshot wound to the head reportedly is proceeding faster than expected.

Mr. Kyl announced Thursday that he would not seek a fourth term in 2012. If Ms. Giffords decides she's game for a Senate run and if her health permits, she would be virtually impossible to defeat, said Bruce Merrill, Arizona State University professor emeritus and longtime pollster.

If one assumes she'd be healthy enough to run, there's nobody who could beat her, said Mr. Merrill. Now she's got 100 percent name identification and 100 percent sympathy from the public. If she was well enough and she wanted the nomination, I don't think there's any question.

That's the easy scenario. If Ms. Giffords declines to run, then the Senate race becomes much more complicated, with as many as a dozen Republicans, a handful of Democrats, a couple of tea partyers and a member of President Obama's Cabinet in the mix.

Pencil in Rep. Jeff Flake as an all-but-guaranteed candidate for the Republican nomination. Within minutes of Mr. Kyl's announcement in Phoenix, Mr. Flake received the endorsement of the influential Club for Growth.

We definitely hope Congressman Flake takes a look at this and gets into the race, said Club for Growth spokesman Mike Connelly. Arizona obviously has a lot of conservative folks who would do a good job, but Congressman Flake has distinguished himself during his tenure in the House as a pro-growth, limited-government conservative.

The Club for Growth's support isn't just for show. Its ads on behalf of Sharron Angle was crucial in helping her defeat her better-known rivals in last year's double-digit Nevada Republican primary.

The Arizona Republican field could be equally jammed with credible candidates. Potential contenders include Rep. …