Sen. Jon Kyl Retirement Sets off Two Races: One in Arizona, Another in D.C

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Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona announces his retirement, opening the door to candidates for his Senate seat as well as his position as the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

Three-term Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona has announced he will not run for reelection in 2012, setting off two races: one to fill his seat in the Senate and another to fill his spot in the Republican leadership.

A day after the Republicans gained hope for a Senate pickup in Virginia with the announcement that Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia will not run for reelection, Senator Kyl's retirement notice Thursday gave the Democrats their own little glimmer of optimism. Kyl was a lock for reelection had he decided to run. An open-seat race loosens the calculation a bit.

"While Kyl's retirement doesn't put the seat in immediate jeopardy, it creates a small opening for Democrats, and potentially a bigger one if they can recruit the right candidate," the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said on its website. "Thus, the race moves to Likely Republican until and if Democrats recruit a first-tier challenger."

Arizona has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1988, but the state has become increasingly competitive in presidential races. In 2008, native son John McCain, the state's senior senator and GOP presidential nominee, beat Barack Obama in Arizona by only 8.5 percentage points. Arizona's large Latino population, in particular, makes the state fertile ground for Democrats. Nationally, President Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008.

But in the race to replace Kyl, the Republicans seem to have a stronger bench. Already, Rep. Jeff Flake, a tea party favorite who has gained national notice as a budget hawk, is reportedly leaning toward running. Other Republicans to watch include just-retired Rep. John Shadegg, former state Attorney General Grant Woods, and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a tea partyer who ran against Senator McCain in the GOP Senate primary last year.

On the Democratic side, the top "get" would be Janet Napolitano, who was governor of Arizona until President Obama tapped her to head the Department of Homeland Security. …

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