Sen. Mel Martinez, a native Cuban and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, will step down from his Senate seat this summer, shocking his Senate colleagues and adding a new twist in the race to replace him.
Martinez, the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, revealed his plans in a statement to supporters and was expected to publicly announce the decision Friday afternoon in Florida.
The first-term senator already had announced in December that he would not seek re-election in 2010, but he had fended off rumors that he would give up the seat early.
His decision puts Republican Gov. Charlie Crist – who is running to replace Martinez – in charge of filling the seat in the interim.
According to Florida state law, the governor has the responsibility of naming a replacement to fill the Martinez seat until the next general election in 2010. When The Miami Herald asked Crist in July about rumors that Martinez might soon resign, Crist said, "Anything's possible. I don't think that's something he [Martinez] really is considering."
"My priorities have always been my faith, my family and my country and at this stage in my life, and after nearly twelve years of public service in Florida and Washington, it's time I return to Florida and my family" Martinez wrote in an e-mail sent to friends and supporters Friday morning.