U.S. representative Mark Foley said Friday that he is dropping out of the race for the Republican Senate nomination from Florida, telling supporters that his father's battle with cancer prevents him from pursuing the campaign. Foley, first elected to Congress in 1994, said he will seek reelection to his West Palm Beach-area House seat. His decision leaves four Republican contenders vying for the seat held by Democratic presidential hopeful Bob Graham, who has not said whether he will seek another term.
In a Republican primary field laden with conservatives, Foley was more moderate on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. In May, Foley took the unusual step of calling a news conference to denounce a report in a South Florida alternative newspaper that he is gay. Foley declined to answer questions about the subject, saying his sexual orientation had no bearing on his duties as a lawmaker and charging Democratic activists with trying to derail his candidacy.
The field of Republicans seeking the seat includes house speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City, state senator Daniel Webster of the Orlando area, former representative Bill McCollum of the Orlando area, and Rep. Dave Weldon of Palm Bay. "Mark Foley would have been a formidable opponent," said Todd Harris, a Byrd campaign spokesman.
The U.S. Senate race in Florida is one of four Southern contests that the Republicans have targeted in their effort to increase their slim majority. The GOP holds a 51-48 advantage, with one independent who leans Democratic. The Republicans hope to capture open Senate seats in Georgia and South Carolina and challenge in North Carolina, where Sen. John Edwards, like Graham, is seeking the presidency. The field of Democrats exploring the race include: former state education commissioner Betty Castor, U.S. representatives Peter Deutsch of Pembroke Pines, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Allen Boyd of Monticello, and Miami-Dade mayor Alex Penelas. None of the Democrats plan to challenge Graham if he runs for reelection.