From NBC's Carrie Dann
Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, the nation's first Cuban-American senator and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, announced today that he will not seek reelection in 2010.
Martinez, a former HUD Secretary under President Bush and a close ally of John McCain during the Arizona senator's presidential run, characterized his decision not to run again as one based on "the call to home, family and lifelong friends." In a statement today, Martinez -- who was widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents for the 2010 cycle -- tried to tamp down the perception that his decision was based on fear of a tough reelection. "I've faced much tougher odds in political campaigns and in life," he said. "My decision was not based on reelection prospects, but on what I want to do with the next eight years of my life."
Martinez announced his intention today, he added, in order to give his potential successors time to organize for what promises to be one of the most hotly contested statewide elections in the next cycle. Mentioned among Republicans who could potentially run in his absence are former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former state House speaker Marco Rubio, state Attorney General Bill McCollum and U.S. Reps. Connie Mack and Vern Buchanan. Rep. Adam Putnam, who recently relinquished his post as the No. 3 in House Republican leadership, has also been mentioned as a GOP lawmaker possibly mulling a run.
Among potential Democratic candidates for the seat are U.S. Rep. Ron Klein of Palm Beach County, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, and House Minority Leader Dan Gelber.
Politico.com reported this morning that the state's Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, does not intend to run.
The full text of the Florida senator's statement is below:
"If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that life can have many wonderful detours from where you think you're going. These result from chance, adversity, and a call to duty.
"As a teenager growing up in Cuba, I saw comfort and the rule of law replaced by tyranny and communist oppression. I saw people beaten for practicing their faith. I remember those who spoke out vanishing – never to be seen again. My parents, with the help of the Catholic Church, sent me here, to the United States – a place to be safe until we could be reunited.
"It was here that I learned the greatness of this country – and the genuine goodness of the American people. I lived with two foster families – good, decent, loving people who answered a call from the pulpit one Sunday to take in a boy they did not know, from a country they had never seen, who spoke a language they did not understand.
"I thank God for the Young and Berkmeyer families. They helped me understand what it means to be American – what it is to aspire to live the American dream – and the profound virtue of giving back to your community.
"After four years I was reunited with my family. I went to college and law school. I met the woman who would become my best friend, my partner and counsel. Kitty and I settled in Orlando – my only true home after I left Cuba. We started a family, sent our two older children, Lauren and John, to Bishop Moore High School – the same school I attended – and where our younger son, Andrew, started as a freshman this year. Orlando is where I built a law practice, and where I was encouraged to become an active member of this vibrant and growing community.
"After years of involvement in numerous community organizations and boards and with encouragement from many friends, I threw my hat into the political ring, running for Orange County Mayor.
"What an honor it would be," I thought, "to serve as Mayor of the community that took me in." It was a race where I started in last place. Pundits openly wondered whether a Hispanic could be elected Orange County Mayor at a time when only 5% of the registered voters in our county were Hispanic.
"So in November of 1998 I began my term believing that after four – or maybe eight years at most – I would return to the private sector. Neither my family nor I had planned or hoped for anything different.
"You all know that one thing led to another. From Mayor, I went to serve in the President's Cabinet. From there, I made the run for U.S. Senate. Again, I started in last place, ran against an impressive field of candidates who had the resources and statewide recognition that should have ended my run early on. Those who volunteered with me knew the odds were against us; no other office holder had been elected on their first statewide run.
"But we persevered. We proved the American Dream is alive and well, especially when an immigrant arriving here with nothing can one day be elected to serve in the United States Senate.
"The Senate is the only federal office carrying a six-year term, so a decision about whether to run for re-election is one that my family and I have carefully considered over the past year. It was a question that came to mind as I wrote my book – causing me to reflect on the path I've chosen, and to think about, with love and gratitude, those who've traveled with me.
"The inescapable truth, for me, is that the call to public service is strong, but the call to home, family and lifelong friends is even stronger.
"So today, with deep love for this country and with sincere gratitude to the people who placed their trust in me, I announce that I will not run for reelection to the United States Senate.
"I thank all of those who helped me reach the highest elected office that an immigrant can hold in this great country. And I especially thank my family, who has supported me every step of the way – especially Kitty, who has sacrificed much more than me and without whom none of this would have been possible.
"Some might try to characterize this decision in terms of political affairs. Some will say a re-election campaign would have been too difficult. But I've faced much tougher odds in political campaigns and in life. My decision was not based on reelection prospects, but on what I want to do with the next eight years of my life.
"The thought of devoting more time to my roles as husband, dad, granddad, brother and son to the family I love and cherish, and to be "Mel" to the friends I miss – makes this decision far easier than one might think.
"So with two years left in my term, I make this announcement today in order to give the many qualified individuals who might choose to try to succeed me an opportunity to organize and gather support.
"I look forward to serving out these next two years. There are big problems facing Florida and the nation, and I will continue to do what I think is in the best interests of the people whom I represent.
"Thank you; God bless you; and God Bless the United States of America."