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Atwater Keeps Door Open For Future Campaigns

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater still has his eyes on pursuing a bigger political stage.

Governor. U.S. Senate.

He wouldn't say Monday night.

But as he announced over the weekend, Atwater, 57, won't be on the campaign trail in 2016 as a U.S. Senate candidate.

The timing to run for an open U.S. Senate seat was "too quick" from the last election, Atwater said Monday night after wearing his state fire marshal hat to present the 2014 Fire Service Awards at the Capitol.

"This isn't something you spend a casual six months getting ready for," Atwater said. "It's now. And it's every day now. It's every weekend now. And when you lay that in the calculus of, we just spent a year-and-a-half on the road, in balancing that with family and with doing the job we're asked to do, it became … let's focus on this job we have."

Atwater's announcement Saturday that he would not run surprised the state's political establishment. Some considered Atwater an early favorite for the seat held by Republican Marco Rubio, who formally announced Monday he would run for president in 2016.

The decision by Atwater also touched off frenzied rumors about possible GOP candidates. Many Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have thrown support to two-term Congressman Patrick Murphy, who represents northern Palm Beach County and parts of the Treasure Coast, while other Democrats want more-liberal Central Florida Congressman Alan Grayson to run.

Atwater, a former Florida Senate president, cruised to re-election last year as chief financial officer against an unheralded Democratic challenger. The North Palm Beach banker raised more than $3.24 million and received more votes than any other statewide candidate.

Atwater was also getting a wide range of encouragement to run to replace Rubio.

Last Wednesday, a super PAC called Reform Washington was formed --- independently of Atwater, he said --- to support what was viewed as his pending U.S. Senate bid.

As for 2018, when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is up for re-election, that's something Atwater expects to begin mapping out in about a year.

"I will look ahead," Atwater said. "If Marco Rubio had been running for re-election I would have been settling back into a second term, getting our team all re-acquainted with new direction and leadership in certain areas and off we were going."

"The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report."

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