MANATEE -- Saying he lacked the “fire in the belly” needed for a congressional run, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, announced Monday that he is folding his campaign tent.
Bennett, who serves as president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, had been talking about running for Congress for months. He officially filed to run for the 11th Congressional District seat in late May, seeking the seat held by Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor.
But Monday he released a statement saying that he plans to focus instead on serving out his Senate term, while keeping his options open at the state or local level.
“Let me be clear. Is this the end of my life in politics? You all know me better than that,” he said in the statement.
“Since expressing interest in running for Congress a few weeks ago, my wife, Dee, and I have been traveling the district meeting with supporters and donors. In these conversations, I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and confidence my community has shown me. However, during this time, Dee and I have had many discussions regarding the ‘fire in the belly’ that is required of running a Federal campaign. In all honesty, I quickly realized that the ‘fire’ I was feeling was heartburn over constant fundraising, travel and the other demands of running for Federal office. Traveling the world and fishing are candidly things I’m looking forward to catching up on when my term in the Florida Senate comes to an end,” he said in the statement.
His departure from the race surprised local Republicans.
Kathy King, head of the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee, said Bennett would have been a tenacious voice for the district in Washington, D.C., but that she understands his decision to withdraw from the race.
“I don’t think he’s done with public service, even if it’s not Washington and not now,” she said.
Dr. Craig Trigueiro, president of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club, was also surprised by Monday’s announcement.
“Mike is a smart guy, a hard worker. I have never known him not to have the fire in the belly,” Trigueiro said.
Bennett’s Senate term runs until fall of 2012.
By that time, he would be 68, and not wanting to travel back and forth between the district and Washington, he said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
The decision to drop out of the congressional race grew out of soul-searching discussions with his wife Dee in recent weeks when the couple visited Belgium and Ecuador.
“We have had a wonderful summer,” he said.
He decided that he had enough on his plate now with his business interests and Senate obligations and that maybe there was too much uncertainty with living outside the district he planned to contest, even though he said earlier he would be willing to move.
What might he do in the future? It could be anything from a run for school board, to running for a House or Senate seat again, or seeking a state appointment.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” he said, although a seat on the county commission is not high on his list right now.
“A lot of that will depend on where the lines get drawn,” he said of the upcoming redistricting.
Bennett said he would also consider a seat on the Public Service Commission, if an appointment were offered, because of his belief in the importance of renewable energy.
In the final analysis though, Bennett said he couldn’t muster the passion for a run for the District 11 seat.
“Everybody I talked to encouraged me to do it. We could just couldn’t get there,” he said.
“Watching all that is going on in Washington and knowing the constant fight that is required to make a difference there, I have decided to no longer pursue my bid for Congress,” he said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.