Those dismayed by the surprise announcement of Jon Kyl’s retirement from the Senate may have reason to cheer after all.  Jeff Flake, who conducted a quixotic fight against Congressional pork for years before it became Tea Party cool, will announce today that he intends to run for Kyl’s seat in 2012:

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will announce Monday that he will run for the U.S. Senate being vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl, a source has told The Arizona Republic.

Flake, who was first elected to Congress in 2000, has long expressed interest in running for the Senate. He will make it official at an 8 a.m. news conference at the same Phoenix hotel where Kyl on Thursday announced that he will retire when his current term ends in January 2013.

Kyl was a conservative stalwart of a more Establishment bent, and by all accounts a class act.  His retirement at 70 (in 2012) – relatively young for the Senate – put the GOP on the defensive in a cycle where Republicans are expected to win control of the upper chamber.  Having a popular incumbent run for re-election is much easier than winning an open seat, and it will take more resources away from other competitive races no matter what happens.

However, Flake’s decision may turn this into a blessing.  Flake is a non-Establishment conservative, a man who has spent more time fighting Republican spending than most of the Democrats in the House.  If the GOP needed a headliner for Tea Party conservatives in the 2012 Senate cycle in the same role that Marco Rubio filled in 2010, Flake would be perfect.  Young at 50 years of age next year, photogenic, and with a warehouse full of credibility on fiscal responsibility and reform, Flake could easily be the secondary face of the Republican Party in 2012 behind whoever ends up at the top of the presidential ticket.

Democrats may have a difficult time finding a competitive candidate to face Flake, assuming Flake wins the primary.  Janet Napolitano’s name has been mentioned, but given her performance as Homeland Security chief and her ties to the Obama administration, that sounds like a desperation move.  Gabrielle Giffords’ name has also been mentioned, and it would be lovely if she has recovered enough by then to even contend for the seat, but right now people are properly focused on her physical recovery and ability to once again represent her district.  Raul Grijalva won a tough race in the neighboring district last year and might be tempted to upgrade in 2012, and perhaps could be a formidable candidate as well.

Update: It didn’t take long for the Club for Growth to make up its mind.  They issued this press release at 10:20 this morning ET:

Club for Growth PAC today endorsed U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake in the 2012 U.S. Senate election in Arizona.  Flake launched his candidacy today, in the wake of Sen. Jon Kyl’s decision to retire from the Senate after this term.

“Jeff Flake is a proven, tireless champion for economic freedom, and Club for Growth PAC will do everything it can in the Republican primary and the general election to help him win this race,” said Club President Chris Chocola.

“Jon Kyl has been a strong, clear-eyed leader on pro-growth economic principles his entire career, and both Arizona and the country have benefited from his years of service,” Chocola said.  “Jeff Flake will make a perfect successor to Kyl in the seat.”

“It is of course commendable that Jeff Flake strongly opposed the worst policies of the Obama Administration, like the failed stimulus and the health care takeover,” Chocola added.  “But what’s really impressive about Jeff is that he had the guts to strongly oppose the worst policies of the Bush Administration and of the previous Republican Congress, like earmarks, bailouts, and the prescription drug entitlement.  That’s the kind of courage in the fight for freedom and limited government we need in the U.S. Senate.”

During the 2008 election cycle, Club for Growth PAC was instrumental in electing the most pro-growth, limited government conservative class in recent congressional history.  Club members supported Senate candidates like Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson,  Rand Paul to the tune of $8.4 million.

Flake is the first candidate Club for Growth PAC has endorsed in the 2012 election cycle.