For Republicans, losing Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona is a bit like the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan retired. Not only is Kyl the MVP among Republican senators, but he also makes the other senators look good and perform better. I can’t think of a member of Congress who will be missed more than Kyl when he retires in 2012.
Kyl has three great strengths. One is his knowledge of issues. He knows more about more subjects – from missile defense to the minutiae of health care – than almost anyone else in Congress. And knowledge is power.
Another is his strategic sense. Kyl has a good grasp of how various issues fit into the mosaic of his party’s political ideology. I’ve talked to him many times and always been impressed by this. He’s a serious conservative thinker on policy.
And he is an extremely nice man who gets along with just about everyone in Congress. Like Jack Kemp, he avoids personal attacks on individual members with whom he might disagree heartily.
Quite often, Kyl has been overshadowed by his Arizona colleague in the Senate, John McCain, and by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. McCain is noisier, more outspoken in public on issues, and more willing to attack others in the political world by name. McConnell is Kyl’s boss, and a crafty and knowledgeable leader in his own right.
No senator is indispensible, though Kyl comes close. It’s fortunate for Republicans to have McConnell as number one. Just think if Republicans were stuck with someone like Majority Leader Harry Reid at the top. In that event, losing Kyl would be downright catastrophic.
My guess is Republicans will have a fairly easy time holding on to Kyl’s seat in 2012, assuming they don’t nominate a klutz as their candidate. Arizona is a Republican state, for the most part, and is likely to remain that next year.