Don Bivens formally made himself a candidate for U.S. Senate on Monday, saying the 2012 race could be the best chance in 18 years for the Arizona Democratic Party, which he chaired for four years to elect one of its own.

“I think the open seat is a clear and open advantage,” Bivens said in a telephonic press conference with reporters. The last time that happened was in 1994 when incumbent Republican Jon Kyl, who is retiring, replaced Democrat Dennis DeConcini.

“There are only six ... open seats for the United States Senate in 2012,” he continued.

“That means people on both sides of the political spectrum are going to be focused on it,” Bivens said. “And I think it changes the equation for those six states.”

Bivens is so far the only Democrat to announce. But former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona has let it be known he is weighing a bid. And there has been no official word from Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who, until she was wounded earlier this year, was considered a likely front runner.

But Bivens insisted he is not simply a placeholder, waiting for others with higher name identification to emerge.

“I am running for U.S. Senate,” he said. “I don’t know what anybody else is going to do.”

Bivens conceded, though, that a Giffords candidacy would be different. But he said that’s an academic question.

“If I thought Gabby was going to be running, I probably would not have declared,” he said, saying that he, like Carmona, had already talked with the congresswoman’s staff about her possible 2012 plans.

Bivens has never been an elected official. But he said that does not make him inexperienced or unqualified, citing his job as an attorney.

“I am experienced in walking with people into rooms where they have emotionally charged, diametrically opposed agendas and in walking out with common-sense, agreed-upon solutions,” he said. “That’s a skill set that we can use in Washington.”

Bivens said he would solve the nation’s deficit by focusing on getting people back to work. More immediately, he promised to work to eliminate waste and fraud in Medicare, get rid of subsidies for farmers so they don’t grow crops, and “eliminate what are really enormous tax give-aways to Big Oil and the wealthiest Americans.”

To that end, Bivens said he was supportive of President Barack Obama’s proposal to make those at the top of the income scale — including himself — pay more.

“I am supportive of fair taxes,” he said. “We have a situation in which the wealthiest Americans and many companies are not paying a fair share of their burden of the tax revenues for us to get ourselves out of the deficit.”

But Bivens said he was opposed to a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, at least in part because of how deep the deficit is now.

“We have gotten ourselves into the mess we are in with the habit of overspending and borrowing to make up the difference,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to get out of that.”

Several Republicans already have said they hope to be their party’s candidate to replace Kyl. They include Congressman Jeff Flake, Mesa real estate investor Wil Cardon, custom homebuilder Douglas McKee and former Youngtown Mayor Bryan Hackbarth.

In a press release, Flake said if the Democrats nominate “a liberal lawyer and former party chairman, the voters will have a clear choice come November.”

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