Haridopolos drops out of US Senate contest

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos suddenly and unexpectedly dropped out of next year's race Monday, saying he wanted 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 that Haridopolos' campaign was in trouble.

Its 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 $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2011 and just $900,000 in the last three months.

Earlier this year, Haridopolos received criticism after an Associated Press story 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.

Monday's announcement 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.

The Republican nominee will try and unseat Nelson, who was elected in 2000 and re-elected handily in 2006 over former Florida Secretary of State and U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of Sarasota.

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