By Mark Z. Barabak
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday the choice of former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl to fill the seat of the late John McCain _ but only for the next few months.
In a surprise wrinkle, Kyl said he would commit to serving only until the end of the current session of Congress, which concludes in January. Ducey, standing alongside Kyl, said he hoped to persuade the former three-term senator to continue in the job and spare the need for another appointment.
"There is no one in Arizona with the stature of Sen. Kyl," Ducey said in a sober appearance announcing his selection. "He is a man without comparable peer. With nearly two decades spent in the Senate, serving alongside John McCain, Sen. Kyl is prepared to hit the ground running."
Kyl was already working with the White House to help shepherd the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh through the Senate. Now, Ducey noted, he will be able to cast a vote in favor, as McCain was expected to do.
Moments before Ducey was scheduled to make his announcement, McCain's widow, Cindy, revealed Ducey's likely choice and offered her support. Cindy McCain has been among those mentioned as a possible successor to her husband.
"Jon Kyl is a dear friend of mine and John's. It's a great tribute to John that he is prepared to go back into public service to help the state of Arizona," she wrote on Twitter.
The death of U.S. Sen. McCain at age 81 presented Ducey, a fellow Republican, with both an opportunity and a dilemma. Under state law, he was obliged to appoint a Republican.
But the Arizona GOP is one of the most deeply divided in the country, torn between pragmatists who supported McCain and the state's other GOP senator, Jeff Flake, and fiercely conservative activists who loathed both men, especially for their criticisms of President Donald Trump.
Caught in the middle was Ducey, who is for up re-election in November and can ill afford to antagonize either side of his party, much less the state's sizable number of independent voters turned off by both extremes in either party.
Kyl, 76, was seen as his safest choice. Before stepping down in January 2013, he was well regarded within the GOP and respected by Democrats on Capitol Hill, where he served in a number of leadership positions.
Kyl appeared grave at Tuesday's announcement and made clear he was not taking up the position with great eagerness. "I'm putting my country first," he said, "just as this seat's previous occupant did every single day for more than 30 years."
Kyl said he would not seek the office in 2020, which could make for a lively and competitive contest to fill the seat for the remainder of McCain's term ending in January 2023.
Arizona is currently home to one of the hardest-fought Senate races this November, pitting GOP Rep. Martha McSally of Tucson against Phoenix's Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. The two are vying for the open seat of Flake, who succeeded Kyl and opted to step aside rather than risk losing the Republican primary.
Ducey's announcement came two days after McCain was laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery following nearly a week of commemorations, including services that drew thousands of mourners in Arizona and Washington, D.C.
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