Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mel Martinez To Retire

Fla. Sen. Mel Martinez figured to be a top target for Democrats in 2010. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez (R) has decided against seeking a second term, a decision he will formalize shortly in the Sunshine State, according to an informed party source.

Martinez's decision was based on a desire for more free time and a less scheduled life, said the source. The first term senator also was an almost certain Democratic target in two years time although those familiar with Martinez's political prospects insisted his strengths in South Florida, coupled with his political base along the I-4 corridor, made his path to reelection possible.

Martinez's retirement ensures a competitive and costly open seat race in Florida. State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, widely seen as Democrats' strongest potential candidate, has apparently decided that she would not run but may well reconsider that decision given Martinez's expected announcement today. Democratic Reps. Ron Klein and Kendrick Meek as well as state Sen. Dan Gelber are likely to consider the open seat race.

On the Republican side, there may well be a push to recruit former Gov. Jeb Bush into the contest although that seems like a long shot. State Attorney General Bill McCollum will almost certainly be mentioned as will state Senate President Jeff Atwater and former state House speaker Marco Rubio. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Connie Mack also may consider a run.

Martinez's retirement creates the second open seat of the 2010 cycle for Republicans. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is expected to leave the chamber to run for governor. Republicans must defend a total of 19 seats in 2010 as compared to 16 for Democrats.

Martinez's rapid rise through the Republican political ranks began a decade ago when he was elected Orange County (Fla.) Chairman. President George W. Bush then named Martinez to head the Housing and Urban Development department in 2000, where he became the first Cuban-American to hold a Cabinet-level post. After initially demurring, Martinez decided to run for the Senate seat being vacated by longtime Sen. Bob Graham (D). He defeated Democrat Betty Castor in that contest. Two years later, Martinez served as stint as general chairman of the Republican National Committee.

"He's had a charmed political life in the best sense, completely unplanned, and totally motivated by wanting to give back to a country that has given him so much," said Phil Musser, a former senior adviser to Martinez at HUD. "In an era where most spend careers plotting their next move up, Mel's heart has always guided him, as it does today, and that's one of the things that makes him so special."

President-elect Barack Obama's victory in Florida last month coupled with Martinez's ties to the unpopular outgoing president made him a major target for Democrats heading into the 2010 cycle. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month showed 36 percent of Florida voters though Martinez deserved a second term while 38 percent did not -- troubling numbers for any incumbent. In that same survey roughly three in ten (31 percent) of voters had a favorable impression of Martinez while 28 percent had an unfavorable view of the Florida Republican.

By Chris Cillizza |

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