TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former Gov. Jeb Bush announced Tuesday that he won't run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 to replace the retiring Mel Martinez, saying that it was not the right time to return to elected office.
"I can play a role in helping to reshape the Republican Party's message and focus on 21st century solutions to 21st century problems," Bush told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Not running does not preclude me from being involved in these things and I will be."
Bush seriously considered a run after Martinez said last month he wouldn't seek a second term. Bush spoke with senators, supporters and family, including his brother, President George W. Bush, and his father, former President George Bush.
He said his decision wasn't based on politics, but on his "personal journey." He said his brother's low approval rating didn't factor into his decision, and that Floridians are familiar with his record as governor.
"One of the benefits of being governor is people get to know you and I think people know I love this state," Bush said. "While I'm proud of my brother and I love my brother ... people know that I'm Jeb Bush and I don't think that would have been a problem."
Those close to him have speculated for years that he wouldn't be interested in the Senate because his personality is more suited for executive leadership. They said being one of 100 senators might be frustrating for Bush, though he said that wasn't a factor.
"I really felt like I could make a difference and it could have been a fulfilling job," Bush said.
Bush was governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and remains a popular figure in the state. His announcement clears the path for several other potential Republican candidates who had said they wouldn't challenge him.
"All of us are disappointed that Jeb didn't run, but now it's time to move on," said former House Speaker Allan Bense, who is among those interested in the job. Other potential candidates include Bense's successor, former Speaker Marco Rubio, along with Attorney General Bill McCollum and several congressmen.
Democrats considering a run include Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, state Sen. Dan Gelber and U.S. Reps. Allen Boyd and Kendrick Meek.
Bush won bipartisan praise for leading the state through eight hurricanes in two years. He used standardized testing to overhaul the education system, was credited with making government more efficient and lowered taxes.
"I understand his decision," said Martinez, who announced last month that he wouldn't seek a second six-year term. "Jeb would have been a great candidate and senator."