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Kyl’s 2012 Plan May Start Leadership Scramble

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Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who serves as Kyl’s Chief Deputy Whip, is seen as electable, depending on what position he might pursue. And GOP Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.) are frequently mentioned as leadership candidates, although both have declined to pursue openings in the past and instead focused their efforts on legislation and committee work.

Among the newly elected Republicans, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) are seen as leadership material. Republican leaders have already tapped Ayotte in an unofficial capacity because of her ability to speak to women’s issues and showcased her as the lone freshman at their first press conference this year. Kyl picked Portman to serve on the Whip team, and the Ohioan commands the attention of his colleagues because of his experience serving in the administration of George W. Bush.

Republicans based in Washington, D.C., tend to believe that Kyl will run for re-election, particularly because he could become Majority Whip in 2013. But Republicans in Arizona, including Kyl supporters, are now less certain.

They initially believed that Kyl’s refusal to discuss his re-election plans so soon after the 2010 elections was related to his usual desire to take a break from politics and focus on legislating. In fact, Kyl has not been shy about expressing to reporters his disdain for such questions.

But Republican sources based in the Grand Canyon State now describe Kyl’s backers as “panicked” and being in a holding pattern as it relates to fundraising and everything else connected to a re-election bid. Kyl survived a strong challenge in 2006, a down year for the GOP, and is viewed as the overwhelming favorite to win re-election in 2012 should he run. Roll Call Politics rates his race Safe Republican.

“It has been widely discussed here that Kyl is not going to run,” a Republican consultant based in Arizona said.

Kyl said on Thursday, “I’m getting close to both a decision, and when, and I don’t know exactly when, but in February.”

Cornyn has an interest in Kyl running because open seats usually require more money and attention from a Congressional campaign committee at the expense of focusing on seats held by the opposition party. He told Roll Call he has not discussed the matter with Kyl or pressed him to run.

“It’s an enormously personal decision and so — maybe others feel differently, but I kind of feel like it’s not my place because I have to respect an individual decision,” Cornyn said, although he made clear he would prefer that Kyl stick around.

Jon Kyl is one of our most effective Members.”

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