Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection to the Senate for a fourth term in 2012.
At a press conference in Phoenix, the stalwart Republican offered no explanation for the decision "other than the fact than I think it's time."
He did, however, add: "I wouldn't close my mind to being a vice presidential candidate. Having said that, I expect the chances of that are zero."
Politico's Mike Allen
was among the first to post the news, saying on Twitter Thursday morning that the three-term Republican "will announce his plans to retire at a press conference in Arizona later today, a source confirms."
The Arizona Republic
had reported that Kyl would hold a surprise news conference "amid speculation that he may retire."
Kyl, a lawyer who turns 69 in April, was elected to the Senate in 1994 after serving eight years in the U.S. House. A strong conservative, he ranks second in the GOP Senate leadership and serves on the Finance and Judiciary committees. Kyl led an unsuccessful fight last December against the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, which won Senate ratification after a big push from the Obama administration.
He becomes the latest in a growing list of incumbent senators who will not seek reelection in 2012. On Wednesday, Jim Webb
(D-Va.) joined Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) in saying he would leave the Senate after the current term.
Unlike the Webb departure, which promises a competitive race for the open seat, Kyl is leaving in a Republican-leaning state where the Democratic candidate will face a significant challenge. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defeated Barack Obama in his home state in the 2008 presidential race, although Obama captured 45 percent of the vote.
Several Republicans are already being talked up as possible 2012 candidates, including Rep. Jeff Flake and former Rep. John Shadegg. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Thursday he is "confident that this seat will remain in Republican hands."
But the rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee seemed up for the fight, calling Arizona a "prime pick-up opportunity" for Democrats. Republicans now likely face a divisive primary in Arizona, the campaign committee said, "similar to impending free-for-alls in nearly every other state" with an open Senate seat.