Saying the time had finally come, Jon Kyl announced Thursday he will not seek another six years in the U.S. Senate when his current term ends at the end of 2012.
Kyl said while the decision may seem sudden, it actually was a long time in the making. In fact, he told reporters he actually weighed stepping down before the 2006 race but stayed in to keep the seat in Republican hands.
But Kyl said he made a decision after winning that race that it would be his last. Kyl said he doesn't foresee the same problems for the GOP this time in hanging on to the seat.
"It's probably going to be a pretty good year for Republicans,'' he said.
Kyl said he won't be endorsing anyone to replace him, "at least for awhile,'' leaving the door open he could throw his support behind someone in what could be a crowded primary.
"I think we have a very strong bench,'' he said.
Possible contenders to become Arizona's 11th senator since statehood include Congressman Jeff Flake, former Congressman John Shadegg and former state Treasurer Dean Martin.
An open seat also presents some opportunities for Democrats.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords already had made no secret about her interest in a statewide race before last month's shooting. Jim Pederson, who lost to Kyl in 2006, also is a possibility, as is former Gov. Janet Napolitano, who now is Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration.
And an aide to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who cannot seek reelection, said he would take "a serious look'' at the office.
Kyl ruled out any future political races -- with one notable exception: He would accept a vice presidential spot on a national ticket.
"It's pretty hard to turn your party's nominee down if that request is made,'' he said. "However, having said that, I expect the chance of that are zero.''
And he definitively ruled out a presidential bid.
As to anything else, like lobbying, Kyl called that premature. Anyway, he said, it would be improper for him to even talk with special interests about a post-2012 job while he remains in Congress.
He said an announcement now, nearly two years before his term ends, serves a dual purpose.
First, he said it gives potential candidates a chance to do the kind of fundraising that will be necessary for a statewide race.
But Kyl also said it presents some interesting opportunities for him.
He pointed out that Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut also will be stepping down at the same time. Kyl said that "now that we're too lame ducks,'' it gives both of them, free from having to worry about who they displease, the chance to work on some controversial issues.
At the top of that list, Kyl said, is entitlement reform.
He said politicians on both side of the political aisle all say changes are needed. But each side then wants the other to go first.
"And, of course, that gives the opportunity to the other side to take advantage of that politically,'' he said.
Kyl said immigration reform "is certainly one of the top items on the agenda.''
But the senator said there are other unfinished issues, including a water rights settlement with tribes, clearing the way for a new copper mine and filling the vacancies on federal courts in Arizona.
During his 26-year-political career, Kyl has been mentioned for other posts, including FBI director and possibly a Supreme Court post. On Thursday, he brushed those possibilities aside, calling his Senate position "the best job I could have in Washington.''
Kyl also said he is not leaving for "negative'' reasons.
"My health is good,'' he said.
"I'm fairly confident that if I ran for reelection again I could be reelected,'' Kyl continued. "I do not subscribe to the notion that politics has gotten so coarse these days that civil people cannot engage in it.''
He also said that the emergence of the Tea Party faction was not a factor. "But I acknowledge there are divisions within our party,'' Kyl said.
And Kyl said "it's better to leave when people have a fairly good attitude about you than having to be hounded out of office like unfortunately some of my colleagues.''
Kyl, 68, was an attorney and lobbyist in Phoenix before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served five two-year terms before becoming a senator in 1994, taking the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Dennis DeConcini.