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U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on Monday announced his bid to run for Sen. Jon Kyl’s, R-Ariz., seat in the 2012 election.

Kyl announced on Thursday he would not run for re-election, opening up a highly coveted Senate seat. Kyl entered Congress in 1987 as a representative and has been a senator since 1995.

Flake, a Republican representing much of the southeast Valley since 2001, said in a statement that Kyl has set the standard for other candidates for this office.

“Sen. Jon Kyl has given all of the eventual candidates in this race an excellent model of how to best serve Arizona and the country,” Flake said. “He’s set the bar extremely high, and I’ll do my best to meet that standard.”

Kyl said that after serving 26 years on the Hill, it was time for a change.

“Simply put, it is time — time to do something new, time to have a more flexible schedule for my family, and time to give others an opportunity,” Kyl said.

Patrick Kenney, chair of ASU’s School of Government, Politics and Global Studies, said this race will be competitive for both Republicans and Democrats.

“Because the Senate does not open up very frequently … a number of Republicans and Democrats — but Republicans in particular — will enter the race,” Kenney said. “Outside the presidency, the U.S. Senate is the highest elected federal office in the country, and there are only 100 of them. It’s coveted.”

A Senate seat hasn’t been open in Arizona since 1995, after former Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., retired and Kyl won his seat.

Kenney said it’s hard to tell who the front-runners will be so early, but name recognition will play a key role.

“Any fairly high-ranking state politician at least is going to examine it,” Kenney said.

Democrats should not be discounted as contenders either, he said.

“The balance of the constituency between the two parties is pretty even in Arizona, but the Republicans have an advantage just because they have more people in office currently,” he said.

Kenney said the Democrats’ strongest possible candidate would be former governor and current U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

“The Latino vote is important, and Napolitano won two terms as a Democrat fairly handily,” Kenney said. “The smaller the districts, the better the Republicans do. But statewide it’s more competitive, and this will be a statewide race.”

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