Cornyn Gets 2010 Wake-Up Call

Posted December 2, 2008 at 10:07am

Updated: 3:27 p.m.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) on Tuesday got a taste of life as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, when he found out about Sen. Mel Martinez’s (R-Fla.) decision not to seek re-election in 2010 the same way most everyone else did — via the media.

Republican sources say Martinez did not give Cornyn advance warning of his decision, which he announced Tuesday morning during a news conference in Orlando, Fla. However, the two Senators did speak before Thanksgiving, and Martinez hinted to the incoming NRSC chairman he might forgo a second term in order to spend more time with his family.

In a statement released by Cornyn’s office Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Senator praised Martinez’s record of public service, but did not address the looming project before him: protecting an open seat in a state that is competitive and expensive. Worse yet, Cornyn must wrestle with a newly diminished GOP Senate Conference of 40 to 42 Members and a daunting map for 2010 incumbents.

“The story of Sen. Mel Martinez is the story of the American dream,” Cornyn said. “He has achieved an extraordinary level of success through pure hard work, dedication and determination.”

Martinez’s announcement creates the first electoral headache for Senate Republicans in an election cycle that puts 19 GOP seats in play, compared to just 15 Democratic ones.

Martinez said in remarks released by his office that his decision had nothing to do with the prospect that he might face a tough fight for re-election, and everything to do with his desire to spend more time with his family and friends.

The Floridian, who had been viewed as a rising star in the Senate GOP, said he was making his decision early in order to give those who might succeed him enough time to put together a winning campaign.

“So today, with deep love for this country and with sincere gratitude to the people who placed their trust in me, I announce that I will not run for re-election to the United States Senate,” Martinez said. “Some might try to characterize this decision in terms of political affairs. Some will say a re-election campaign would have been too difficult. But I’ve faced much tougher odds in political campaigns and in life. My decision was not based on re-election prospects, but on what I want to do with the next eight years of my life.

“The thought of devoting more time to my roles as husband, dad, granddad, brother and son to the family I love and cherish, and to be ‘Mel’ to the friends I miss — makes this decision far easier than one might think.”

Cornyn dodged one bullet recently when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) revealed he would run for re-election despite losing his bid for the presidency. But Martinez’s departure could be problematic. Although Florida has a strong Republican Party and a solid GOP donor base, the primary is usually held in early September.

Should the NRSC be severely outraised by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as it was the past two cycles, Senate Democrats could be in a better position to pull their candidate across the finish line in two years.

Among the potential Democratic candidates receiving early mention are state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) who serves in a statewide elected position, and Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.). Sink recently suggested she wasn’t interested in the seat, but Martinez’s exit could prompt her to reconsider.

Martinez stepped down as the Republican National Committee co-chairman last year, saying he wanted to focus on home state politics. At the time, most predicted he wanted to step away from a highly partisan position in order to secure his footing for 2010.