Mike Haridopolos drops out of US Senate contest

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos abruptly dropped out that race Monday, saying he needs to concentrate on his final year as president of the Florida Senate.

The 41-year-old Merritt Island lawmaker said he could not effectively serve as Senate president and also devote the time necessary for a successful bid for his party's nomination to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who is seeking a third term.

"It became increasingly clear to me and those around me, that the responsibilities I was managing on both fronts were in conflict," Haridopolos said in a news release. "I truly believed I could handle both jobs, but I was wrong."

There had been a growing number of signs in recent days that the Haridopolos' campaign might be in trouble.

The campaign's fundraising totals dropped dramatically in the second quarter of the year and two key staff members, Pat Bainter and Tim Baker, announced over the weekend that they were leaving the campaign. Haridopolos raised only $900,000 in the quarter ending June 30, compared to the $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2011, including $1 million at a single January fundraiser.

He had also lost two key advisers in recent weeks in the Senate president's office. Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara left in late June to take on similar responsibilities for Gov. Rick Scott while communications director David Bishop bailed for a newly created six-figure job at the state's lottery department.

Earlier this year, Haridopolos was embarrassed by a story by The Associated Press that detailed a deal he had with his former employer, Brevard Community College. He received $152,000 from the school to write a book about Florida history and politics, which at that point had not been published. After the story, the school put an electronic version on sale — as of last month, 70 copies had been sold, netting the school almost $500.

But Haridopolos had been confronted with ethics questions before and in an unprecedented action was admonished in his own chamber by Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, on the first full day of the 2011 session for failing to fully disclose his financial interests for a five year period between 2004 and 2008.

But Monday's sudden announcement still caught many Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott, off guard.

"I was surprised," Scott said in a statement from his press office. "Anytime a statewide race loses a principled conservative like Mike Haridopolos in a race of this importance, it is a sad day for our state."

Former state Rep. Adam Hasner of Delray Beach, Winter Park businessman Craig Miller, retired Army Col. Mike McCalister and George LeMieux, who was appointed to serve the final 16 months of former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez's term, remain in the GOP contest. LeMieux was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist when Martinez said he had become tired of Washington and left before finishing his first term. The seat was won last fall by Repulican Marco Rubio, a former state House speaker.

The 2012 Republican nominee will face Nelson, who defeated Bill McCollum in 2000 and then won a landslide re-election in 2006 over then-U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who had become famous as Florida's secretary of state during the 2000 presidential recount.

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