WASHINGTON — Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona on Tuesday appointed former Senator Jon Kyl to fill the seat left open by John McCain’s death, elevating a well-liked former Republican lawmaker who is acceptable to both Mr. McCain’s admirers and forces loyal to President Trump.
Mr. Kyl, who served three terms in the Senate, spoke at a service honoring Mr. McCain in the Arizona State Capitol last week, but he has also been shepherding Brett M. Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, through the Senate.
“It’s not the time for newcomers, and now is not the time for on-the-job training,” said Mr. Ducey at a news conference in Phoenix.
But in tapping Mr. Kyl, Mr. Ducey has effectively put the stature of Mr. McCain’s seat ahead of the political imperative of keeping it in Republican hands: For now, the former senator has only committed to serving until the start of the next Congress, in January.
Mr. Kyl has indicated he would consider staying in the seat longer, until 2020, when a special election will be held to fill Mr. McCain’s unexpired term, the officials said. But he made clear at the news conference that he will not seek to run again. That would leave the seat open and could trigger a fiercely competitive primary.
However, the election this year for the other Arizona Senate seat, the one being vacated by Jeff Flake, could also shape calculations. Should Representative Martha McSally, a Republican, lose to Representative Kyrsten Sinema, Mr. Kyl could step aside to make way for Ms. McSally’s appointment.
Mr. Ducey said that even as he considered a range of possibilities, he kept returning to Mr. Kyl, who was the second-ranking Senate Republican when he left office in 2013.
“He is a man without comparable peer,” said the governor.
The governor telephoned Mr. Kyl after Mr. McCain’s death a week ago Saturday and asked him if he would accept the appointment. Mr. Kyl said he wanted to speak with his wife and sleep on it. The next day, he called Mr. Ducey and said he would serve.
With Republicans holding only a 50-49 majority in the Senate, and a vote on Mr. Kavanaugh looming, the governor thought it was vital to appoint somebody who could immediately step in and represent the state’s interests, according to Arizona Republican officials familiar with the process.
Mr. Ducey and Mr. Trump did speak about the appointment, but the president was not told that the governor had picked Mr. Kyl until Tuesday, according to the officials. The president did not request any specific appointee, signaling only that he would like somebody he could work with. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and a friend of Mr. Kyl’s, was told last week that his former colleague would be named.
Earlier this year, Mr. Kyl said Mr. Trump’s style was “boorish” and that he was “his own worst enemy.” Asked about those characterizations at the news conference, Mr. Kyl said he stood by his remarks.
Mr. McCain and his family never offered Mr. Ducey any guidance on their preferences for the appointment. Since leaving the Senate, Mr. Kyl has been a lobbyist at Covington & Burling. He said Tuesday that his lobbying work would not impede his ability to serve, and Mr. Ducey’s aides indicated he would sever ties to his clients. .
Mr. Kyl’s appointment would only be his latest trip through Washington’s revolving door. He was a lobbyist for an Arizona-based law firm before he won election to the House in the mid-1980s.
Covington had touted Mr. Kyl’s role as the Senate’s “top Republican on the Subcommittee on Taxation and Internal Revenue Service Oversight,” and taxation has been the issue that he lobbies on most frequently, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
His client list reflects his establishment pedigree. They include Freeport-McMoRan, the Arizona-based mining company; JW Aluminum, a manufacturer of aluminum products; as well as Georgetown University, and the American Council of Education, which represents colleges and universities.
The telecommunications giant Qualcomm was one of his biggest clients, paying Mr. Kyl and a team of Covington lobbyists more than $6 million since the beginning of last year to lobby on a range of issues.
Mr. Kyl was also hired by Donald E. Graham, the former publisher of The Washington Post, to lobby to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The program, aimed at shielding roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from being deported, has been one of the many flash-point issues of the Trump administration.
Cindy McCain, Mr. McCain’s widow, hailed the selection, writing on Twitter that Mr. Kyl is “a dear friend” and that it is “a great tribute to John that he is prepared to go back into public service.”
Arizona has been without a second senator in Washington since the ailing Mr. McCain returned home in December to spend his last months in the state. And with Republicans holding the barest of majorities, party leaders have been eager to seat Mr. McCain’s successor.
Mr. Ducey was under intense pressure to bridge the G.O.P. divide in his state and beyond. The governor’s task: find a candidate who would please Mr. Trump and his supporters but also not alienate Mr. McCain’s family and the smaller bloc of Republicans who are uneasy with, or downright contemptuous of, the president.
Complicating Mr. Ducey’s task was his own political fate. He is facing re-election in two months and, in a year when Democratic enthusiasm is surging, can ill afford to anger any Republicans.
After a bruising legislative session during which thousands of striking teachers descended on the State Capitol to demand raises and more education funding, Mr. Ducey saw his popularity sag. Even though Arizona is a Republican-leaning state, Democrats believe he could be vulnerable. And they are not alone: The Republican Governor’s Association has reserved over $7 million in campaign funds for Mr. Ducey and is set to begin an advertising offensive against the Democratic nominee, David Garcia, this week
A former executive at Cold Stone Creamery, Mr. Ducey easily won the governorship in 2014 when Republicans romped nationwide. With roots in the Midwest and ties to the financial network of the Koch Brothers, Mr. Ducey is closer to Vice President Mike Pence than he is to Mr. Trump.
But the governor has warmed to Mr. Trump, and in the lead-up to his own lightly contested primary last week he received an endorsement tweet and praise for doing a “great job” from the president.
Mr. Trump is as about unpopular as he is popular in Arizona, polls show, and Democrats typically fare better at turning out Hispanic voters in presidential years.
National Democrats have already started talking with Grant Woods, a former state attorney general and moderate Republican, about the prospect of running for the seat as a Democrat, according to party officials familiar with the discussions. A onetime chief of staff to Mr. McCain and close friend of the late senator’s family, Mr. Woods has been a critic of the president
In a eulogy last week at Mr. McCain’s memorial service in Arizona, Mr. Woods delivered an unmistakable rebuke of Mr. Trump’s attacks on the media. Mr. McCain, said Mr. Woods, “would not stand by as people try to trample the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment.”
“The past week of celebrating the remarkable life of my friend John McCain has caused me to do some soul-searching,” Mr. Woods said Tuesday, adding that he had “decisions to make.”