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December 02, 2008

Martinez not running for reelection in 2010

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) announced that he will not be running for a second term, setting up a contentious and expensive battle for the Sunshine State’s open Senate seat.in 2010.

At a press conference in Orlando this morning, Martinez said he wanted to return to work in the private sector, and spend more time with his family.

“At some point you recognize you have to go back to private life. It’s going back to your roots. It didn’t crystallize in any one moment, it was a decision I slowly grew to in consultation with my wife and family,” Martinez said.

But Martinez was also facing the reality of his sagging poll numbers and the prospect of a hard-fought reelection bid. Martinez was one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection in 2010, with multiple polls showing him with approval ratings well under 50 percent and with weak reelect numbers.

A November Quinnipiac poll showed a 38 percent plurality of Florida voters believe Martinez doesn’t deserve another term, while only 36 percent believe he should be reelected. Against an unnamed Democratic opponent, Martinez trails by 4 points, 40 percent to 36 percent.

“Some would say a reelection campaign would have been too difficult but I’ve dealt with longer odds in politics,” Martinez said. “My decision was not made by my reelection prospects, it’s what I wanted to do with the next eight years of my life.”

Martinez said he told Gov. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.) of his intentions this morning to let him know his decision. He said he did not discuss the possibility of resigning to allow Crist to appoint a Republican successor until 2010.

“I do expect to finish out my term,” Martinez said.

A Republican leadership aide said that Martinez’s decision was a "total surprise to a lot of us.” The aide said that Martinez said he was “planning” to run for re-election during last month’s lame duck session.

Martinez's retirement sets up a laundry list of potential candidates on both sides of the aisle. 

Democrats had already been considering taking on Martinez before his retirement announcement. Popular state CFO Alex Sink decided not to challenge Martinez over the Thanksgiving holiday, but may now reconsider given Martinez’s decision. Other potential Democratic candidates include: Reps. Ron Klein, Allen Boyd and state senator-elect Dan Gelber.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), former state House Speaker Marco Rubio and incoming state Senate President Jeff Atwater are all potential Republican candidates.