Jon Kyl announces retirement
Updated 1:47 p.m.
Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) announced his retirement at a press conference in Phoenix Thursday afternoon.
"I will not seek reelection the United States Senate but will retire from public service in January 2013," Kyl said. He added that he was confident he would win if he ran again, adding: "There is no reason other than the fact than I think its time." He revealed that he had all but decided not to run again when he won six years ago.
As for the future, "I wouldn't close my mind to being a vice presidential candidate," Kyl told reporters. "Having said that, I expect the chances of that are zero."
Kyl is the fifth Senator to announce he is leaving the chamber in 2012. He joins Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D), Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) on the sidelines.
Kyl is the Senate Minority Whip, the second ranking position in Republican leadership. His planned departure will set off a leadership race for his slot. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) are expected to compete for that post. An Alexander aide confirmed the Tennessean will run for whip. Sen. John Thune is currently mulling a run for president but if he takes a pass on that contest, he will likely enter the leadership fight as well.
During his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Kyl's retirement was a "big loss" for the country.
In a statement, fellow Arizona senator John McCain (R) said, "It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with Jon Kyl .... he will be sorely missed."
Kyl was elected to the Senate in 1994 after serving four terms representing Arizona's 4th district in the House.
The open seat race will draw considerable interest from both national parties, as Arizona has been competitive at the presidential level in recent years.
Republicans likely to take a serious look at running include former Rep. John Shadegg and Rep. Jeff Flake.
Flake won some critical early support from the powerful Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative organization based in Washington, D.C.. "Run, Jeff, run", urged Club president Chris Chocola.
Flake did not address a potential candidacy in a statement released this afternoon, saying only that Kyl's "retirement will create a huge void."
Democrats' best candidate is Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who served as the governor of the state before accepting a job in the Obama Cabinet. Napolitano is not expected to make any statement on her interest or lack thereof today.
Other Democrats mentioned include former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, former state party chairman Jim Pederson and former state Attorney General Terry Goddard.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at an event last month in Tuscon, was widely seen as Democrats' strongest potential candidate and, according to those close to her, could still make the race.