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Florida Surprise: Jeff Atwater Won’t Run for Marco Rubio’s Senate Seat

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater says he’s decided not to run for the Senate seat that is expected to be vacated by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Rubio will be launching a presidential campaign on Monday and Florida law will not allow him to remain on the ballot for both races.

Atwater was viewed as the front runner for the seat, due to his name recognition and fundraising network developed after winning two back-t0-back statewide races, in 2010 and 2014.

Breitbart News had spoken to Atwater last month. He was still actively exploring throwing his hat in the ring. Atwater’s original plan had been to run for a statewide seat in 2018, either Senate or Governor, after his current four year term as CFO was completed. Rubio’s presidential ambitions and the encouragement of supporters had led Atwater to consider moving up his timetable and running for the 2016 Senate seat.

Pieces were starting to come together for Atwater to enter the race. According to Politico, Atwater supporters had started a Super PAC on Thursday and recent polls showed that Atwater was not just the front runner among the Republican candidates, but performed the strongest against the two Democratic Congressmen, Patrick Murphy (D-FL) and Alan Grayson (D-FL), who are eyeing the seat. Breitbart News’ sources in Florida indicated that Atwater would officially launch his Senate campaign a few days after Rubio’s Monday presidential announcement.

However, Atwater has now changed his mind about running in 2016. He released a statement saying: “Over the past weeks I have received a tremendous amount of encouragement to consider a run for the United States Senate in 2016. 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.”

Politico’s Marc Caputo reported, “Atwater first broke the news to donors, friends and advisers earlier Saturday, telling people he isn’t running because his family doesn’t want him moving back and forth from Washington and his home in South Florida.”

Breitbart News confirmed with sources in Florida that Atwater is not running in 2016 for the family reasons cited. Atwater himself confirms his decision and says a 2018 bid is still very much on the table. However, he declined to make a further comment other than his released statement.

Among the other Republicans rumored to be considering running for Rubio’s Senate seat are Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Rep. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Tom Rooney, Rep. Vern Buchanan, former Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, and former Sen. George LeMieux.

Two potential GOP candidates who had relatively strong showings in early polls, Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Congressman Allen West, have said that they will not run. West has since moved to Texas and has residency there, and has publicly said that he has no intention of moving back to Florida for a political race. Bondi also released a statement that she was focused on her job as AG and would not run, although whether that might change now that her fellow Cabinet member Atwater would no longer be her competition remains to be seen.

LeMieux, appointed by former Governor — and former Republican — Charlie Crist to serve the remainder of Sen. Mel Martinez’s term in 2009, would likely face the same obstacles he did when he attempted to run in 2012. The close association with Crist and support for moderate political positions put him out of step with the Republican primary voters and LeMieux dropped out before the primary election was even held.

DeSantis was elected in 2012 with strong tea party support and endorsements from conservative groups including Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America. His Ivy League education and military service in the U.S. Navy — plus the reported $1 million cash-on-hand in his Congressional campaign account that he could roll over for a Senate race — make him an attractive candidate. Politico reported that a source close to DeSantis said that he is “strongly considering” entering the race after Rubio’s announcement.

Most of the rest of the potential Republican candidates have generally good favorability ratings but will have to work on name recognition and quickly assemble a strong fundraising team, and the timing may not be right for several.

Weatherford just turned over the Florida’s Speaker’s gavel to Steve Crisafulli at the beginning of the year and is said to be considering running, depending on who else throws their hat in the ring. Weatherford’s children are also very young and he recently launched a consulting company with his brothers, leading several sources to speculate that he may be inclined to take a few years away from politics.

Rooney also has young children, but has a few more years in Congress and family fundraising connections (the family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Palm Beach Kennel Club) that would be great assets for a statewide campaign. Lopez-Cantera is well-liked and is Florida’s first Hispanic Lieutenant Governor, but the extremely limited powers of his office will be of little help in overcoming the name recognition gap.

In the meantime, the battle on the Democrat’s side of the aisle has been growing increasingly heated, with progressive Democrats publicly criticizing Murphy as being too moderate in comparison to firebrand Grayson, and Murphy launching partisan attacks on the tea party to bolster his liberal credentials.

Read the statement by Jeff Atwater:

Over the past weeks I have received a tremendous amount of encouragement to consider a run for the United States Senate in 2016. In response, we reached out to many friends around Florida and the country to discuss the direction in which politicians in Washington are taking our Country.

Universally, these conversations expressed deep concerns over the fiscal train-wreck of our Federal government, the lack of leadership on the world stage and the abandonment of our faithful allies, the bureaucratic stranglehold on our economy that is crushing hardworking middle class Americans, and the disgraceful assault on religious freedom.

I am most humbled that these conversations included a deep expression of confidence and urging by so many friends that we advance with a candidacy for the United States Senate.

While I have certainly taken these words of support under consideration, I will not be a candidate for U.S. Senate 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.

This effort was graced with amazing support from across the State of Florida by grassroots activists, donors, and an amazing team who were on this journey with me.

As an American, and in my capacity as Florida’s CFO I will continue to fight for the foundational principles that gave birth to this country and which have proven beyond any doubt, and with apologies to none, that the United States of America is “…the last best hope on earth.”

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.

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