TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater surprised the state's political establishment Saturday, announcing he will not pursue a U.S. Senate seat expected to open up if Sen. Marco Rubio runs for president.
In a statement, Atwater said he had "received a tremendous amount of encouragement" to run for the office.
"While I have certainly taken these words of support under consideration, I will not be a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016," the Republican said. "I remain committed to only one endeavor and that is to be the best CFO I can be for the people of Florida."
With his fundraising ability and an operation that has helped him win two statewide races, Atwater would have been the favorite to win an open seat. He won re-election in November with more votes than any other statewide candidate. Before becoming CFO, he served in the Legislature, including a stint as state Senate president.
Rubio is scheduled to announce his plans Monday and is widely expected to say he will run for the Republican presidential nomination. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has already said he's exploring a White House bid.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, former state House Speaker Will Weatherford and several members of Florida's congressional delegation have also been mentioned as possible GOP candidates for Rubio's seat. Attorney General Pam Bondi has ruled out a run.
While an open Senate seat is a rare opportunity, some candidates might prefer to wait until 2018. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would be 74 on Election Day if he runs for re-election then, and voting turnout tends to favor the GOP in midterm elections.
Leading Democrats have coalesced behind two-term Congressman Patrick Murphy, who represents a swing seat in Southeast Florida, as their candidate for Rubio's seat. But some progressives have complained about the rush to anoint Murphy, and Congressman Alan Grayson, a liberal firebrand from Central Florida, is considering a run.
The state will be closely watched in 2016, as Democrats try to wrest control of the Senate away from Republicans. Florida is far friendlier to Democratic candidates in presidential years, though having Bush or Rubio at the top of the ticket could shake up that calculus.
The News Service of Florida's Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.
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