Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, the leading Republican candidate for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat, stunned political donors Saturday when he told them he will stay out of the race for family considerations.
“Over the past weeks I have received a tremendous amount of encouragement to consider a run for the United States Senate in 2016,” he later told reporters in a statement.
“While I have certainly taken these words of support under consideration, I will not be a candidate in 2016. I remain committed to only one endeavor and that is to be the best CFO I can be for the people of Florida.”
Atwater appeared ready to declare his candidacy soon after Rubio’s expected presidential announcement on Monday in Miami. Atwater’s absence opens the door for other potential contenders, such as Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. DeSantis, in particular, has indicated he’s likely to run.
Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford hasn’t expressed much of an interest, though Republicans have kept his name in the mix. Attorney General Pam Bondi said this week she’s sitting out the race.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Atwater led the early GOP field, and his supporters had created a “super” PAC to raise money for his would-be campaign. The poll showed Atwater ahead of Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, who is officially running, and another possible Democratic candidate, Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando.
Democrats consider the seat a possible pickup for their party, because presidential election years tend to attract more liberal-leaning voters.
Last year, Atwater, of North Palm Beach, sought the Florida Atlantic University presidency but bowed out after he didn’t make the list of finalists. He was easily reelected to a four-year term as CFO in November.