Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, will not seek reelection to the seat he has held for three terms.
Kyl announced his retirement at an Arizona news conference.
“There is no other reason than the fact it is time,” Kyl said. “It is time for me to do something else and time to give someone else a chance.”
Kyl's retirement is the fifth in the Senate as Republicans and Democrats gear up for 2012, when control of the chamber will be up for grabs. Democrats and their allies have a 53-47 majority but must defend 23 seats as opposed to the GOP, which has just 10 incumbents running.
Other senators who have announced that they are leaving include Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).
Kyl, the GOP whip, would likely have had an easy time seeking a fourth term, but his retirement makes the race a possible tossup because Arizona is considered a competitive state for both parties, especially in 2012, a presidential election year.
“Senator Kyl’s announcement has instantaneously catapulted Arizona to a prime pick-up opportunity for Senate Democrats this cycle,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz. “Republicans now likely face a primary in Arizona, similar to impending free-for-alls in nearly every other state.”
Still, the last time Arizona elected a Democrat to the Senate was 1988 -- 23 years ago.
Republicans were elected to every statewide office in Arizona last cycle: senator, governor, secretary of State, attorney general, treasurer and education superintendent. After a tough primary, Sen. John McCain won reelection with 58% of the vote.
Over the last decade, Republicans have maintained about a 6% voter-registration advantage in the state. But Democrats say they have been increasing their enrollment.
Among those considered possible GOP replacements for Kyl are former Rep. John Shadegg and Rep. Jeff Flake.
Among the potential Democrats are: Janet Napolitano, a former governor and currently secretary of Homeland Security; Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick from Flagstaff, Ariz.; and U.S. Atty. Dennis Burke. Also mentioned are former state party chairman Jim Pederson and former state Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard.
As GOP whip, Kyl was an important figure in the minority. Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is expected to seek to move up to that position, though he could face challengers.
Kyl was elected to the Senate in 1994 after serving four terms representing Arizona's 4th District in the House.
email@example.com Mascaro reported from Washington and Muskal from Los Angeles.