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Politics

Norman withdraws from Senate re-election bid

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:27 PM

Update: State Sen. Jim Norman withdrew today from his re-election bid in District 17.

The first-term senator and longtime Hillsborough County Commissioner’s name was not on the state Division of Elections Website this morning. He qualified to run for the post Friday, the last day to formally enter the race.

The Tampa Tribune reported earlier that Norman was about to pull out of the race because of declining support among top Republicans in the Florida Legislature. Several high-level Republican leaders in Pasco and Hillsborough counties told The Tribune that Norman’s poll numbers were low and his negatives were high.

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State Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa, who took office in the midst of an investigation into his financial disclosures, has told Republican leaders he plans to withdraw his bid for re-election, two prominent local party members said Monday.

The news came the same day that state Rep. John Legg of Port Richey, one of Norman's three Republican challengers, picked up a key endorsement from incoming Florida House speaker Will Weatherford.

Norman's support among voters has been declining and with it, the support of the Republican leadership, according to the two prominent party members, who asked that their names not be used so Norman could break the news officially himself.

A former Hillsborough County commissioner, Norman was elected to the state Senate in November 2010 but is seeking re-election in a newly aligned District 17 because of the state's once-a-decade redrawing of legislative districts.

Whatever advantage Norman might have enjoyed as an incumbent began to dissipate even before he was elected.

Just months before the election, news broke that Norman's wife, Mearline, owned a $500,000 lakefront home in Arkansas. Norman hadn't included the house on financial disclosure forms nor revealed that his wife bought it with money from Ralph Hughes, her husband's longtime political mentor and financial supporter.

As part of a settlement in March with the Florida Ethics Commission, Norman admitted his guilt in failing to disclose the information. The Senate Rules Commission is determining whether to impose a penalty or disciplinary action.

Neither Norman nor his staff could be reached for comment Monday.

Asked whether he had heard Norman plans to withdraw, challenger Legg said Monday in an email that he "Cannot confirm, but cannot deny, either."

Legg's decision to run in the new Senate district was largely unexpected. For months, he had pursued the new District 18 Senate seat, which stretches from his old House district in West Pasco to take in Hernando and most of Sumter counties.

Both Legg and Norman have more than $100,000 in the bank, according to their latest campaign finance reports. Both qualified by Friday's deadline to seek the office.

Legg was chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee and served as deputy majority whip and speaker pro-tempore.

He has garnered endorsements from state Sen. Mike Fasano and state Rep. Richard Corcoran, both Republicans from New Port Richey; state Rep. Robert C. "Rob" Schenck, R-Spring Hill; and a number of Pasco County officials.

In addition to Legg, former state Rep. Rob Wallace and security consultant John Korsak have also challenged Norman in the Republican primary. The winner will face Democrat Wes Johnson.

District 17 includes southeast Pasco County and north-central and northwest Hillsborough County.

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