- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he will not run for the state’s open Senate seat next year and instead will work from outside elected office to rebuild the Republican Party.

“While the opportunity to serve my state and country during these turbulent and dynamic times is compelling, now is not the right time to return to elected office,” he said.

Republican Sen. Mel Martinez announced last year he would not seek re-election, which set off a round of speculation about the former governor’s intentions. His brother, President Bush, and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, both seemed to send signals encouraging him to make a run.

“I’d like to see him run. I’d like to see him be president someday,” the senior Mr. Bush told “Fox News Sunday” last weekend.

But the former governor said he wants to focus on education, including working to build “a system that lessens our populace’s dependence on government.”

In his statement, the former governor did not mention his brother, the current president, but did praise President-elect Barack Obama, saying he “ran a tremendous campaign and I am proud to call him my president. I am confident Republicans will find productive ways to work together with the new administration to advance reforms both sides of the aisle can support.”

Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer said that although he was disappointed in Mr. Bush’s decision not to run for the Senate, the party will present a strong candidate in 2010.

“The Republican Party of Florida has created a formidable cadre of qualified candidates for higher office, and we look forward to seeing their ideas for the future — including lowering taxes on families and businesses and reining in government spending — in action during a spirited campaign.”

While in office, Mr. Bush, 55, earned praise among conservatives for cutting taxes, trimming the state work force, pushing for school choice and moving to privatize many state services. Analysts credit his popularity among moderates to the boost in test scores among minority students and his success in leading the Sunshine State through two hurricanes.

Since leaving office in 2007 after two terms, Mr. Bush has kept a relatively low public profile, writing an occasional column or giving interviews.

The Republican nomination for Florida’s Senate seat was considered Mr. Bush’s for the taking, though state Attorney General Bill McCollum, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Adam H. Putnam all have expressed interest, as has former state House Speaker Allan G. Bense.

On the Democratic side, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, one of Florida’s two Democrats in statewide office (the other being Sen. Bill Nelson) publicly has expressed an interest in running, as have Reps. Allen Boyd and Kendrick B. Meek.

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