Public Policy Polling (Jan. 28-30; 599 registered AZ voters) just completed a survey of the new in-cycle senate race featuring three-term incumbent Jon Kyl (R). Disregarding the burgeoning rumors that the senator may decide to retire, the poll shows him to be in sound political position. The retirement conjecture gains more credibility, however, when observing that the normally cautious Kyl is not engaged in any overt action to formulate a 2012 campaign structure.
If he runs, the senator fares well against every potential Democratic opponent. The person doing best against him, former Attorney General Terry Goddard, fell victim to Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in the 2010 election. Goddard trails Kyl 40-50% according to the PPP data. The senator does even better against Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (54-33%) and defeated Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1; 51-35%). He posts a healthy 53-41% margin over Homeland Security Secretary and former Gov. Janet Napolitano. The Secretary’s job performance in Washington has clearly turned her own electorate against her. Riding a wave of Arizona popularity when she headed to Washington, PPP now detects her personal approval rating to be a miserable 40:55% favorable to unfavorable. These numbers represent a huge negative turnaround and suggest she would fare very poorly in an Arizona statewide race.
If Sen. Kyl decides to retire, who might run in his place? Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) already is saying that he considers the Senate an option if the seat is open. He’s the logical person from the congressional delegation to make the attempt to run statewide. He has solid conservative/libertarian credentials and has made a national name for himself as a spending/anti-earmark hawk at precisely the right time. Three of the other congressional Republicans are freshmen who more than likely would not yet be ready to make a statewide bid. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) has never been noted as a powerful fundraiser or campaigner, so it is also doubtful that he would take the plunge.
Democrats are much weaker. Goddard, who appears to be their best candidate, already lost a race to Brewer by a substantial margin. Gordon, as the mayor of the state’s dominant city — a position that usually does not prove itself as a good launching pad to higher office in any state — has poor favorability ratings. According to the PPP poll, his personal approval ratio is 19:37%.
Normally, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) would certainly be in the conversation as a top potential statewide candidate. But, the tragic and senseless shooting that leaves her recovering in a Houston medical facility almost assuredly takes her out of any 2012 statewide conversation, thus leaving the Democrats in a bind. Judging from the approval ratings of the other well-known Arizona political names, Giffords would probably have been the party’s strongest candidate.
Sen. Kyl promises to make and announce a re-election decision before February ends. Either way, Republicans will be favored to hold the seat in November of 2012, but their road to their victory will likely be smoother if the incumbent seeks another term.
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