Some names that have been tossed around as possibilities from the wing of the party viewed as tough on illegal immigration: former Rep. J.D. Hayworth
(R), Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu
-- Babeu appeared in McCain's "Complete The Danged Fence" TV ad in 2010 -- who has not ruled out
a bid. Mark Sanders
, a Republican operative who worked on Hayworth's 2010 campaign said he spoke with Hayworth shortly after Kyl's announcement on Thursday, and the former congressman is weighing a bid.
"Immediately after Kyl announced that was he was not going to run, Hayworth started getting phone calls from grassroots organizers, especially the Tea Party organizations," said Sanders.
The 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary is an example of how the immigration issue can influence a race. Gov. Jan Brewer
(R), who once struggled in the polls, enjoyed a significant bounce after signing SB 1070, the state's tough-on-immigration measure. Brewer seized the momentum from the primary and used it to catapult herself toward a comfortable victory in the general election. Brewer's name has also been mentioned as a possibility for the Senate race.
Immigration also played a big role in the 2010 Senate race. McCain repositioned himself on immigration in his effort to defeat Hayworth.
Brewer's success came after signing a bill and McCain spent millions blanketing the airwaves with ads boasting of a tough stance on illegal immigration. But for other candidates hoping to be the "immigration candidate," a statewide race presents challenges.
"The hard line immigration crowd just doesn't have as much support statewide as they do within specific districts of the state," said Northern Arizona University professor Fred Solop
Flake may not even be the only member of Congress that runs. A high level Arizona Republican source said that Rep. Trent Franks
is exploring a bid. Former Rep. John Shadegg
's name has been in the mix though some believe he will opt not to run because he is making more money in the private sector outside of Congress. GOP Reps. David Schweikert
and Ben Quayle
have also been floated as possibilities in recent reporting.
Immigration and border security aren't going to disappear as dominant issues in Arizona politics anytime soon. On Thursday, Brewer filed
a lawsuit against the federal government, charging a failure to secure the border, the latest sign the issue will continue to be front and center.
But if the economy and spending emerge as the dominant issue in the 2012 primary, Flake's reputation and record would likely give him a leg up on the GOP competition.