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Paula Dockery Ends Campaign for Governor

Republican gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery ended her quest to occupy the Governor’s Mansion on Monday, saying she hates to give up the fight but doesn’t have the cash to run an effective statewide campaign.

Dockery’s exit leaves Attorney General Bill McCollum and Naples businessman Rick Scott as the final high profile candidates for the GOP nomination to replace Gov. Charlie Crist.

“People who know me know I'm a tenacious fighter unafraid of long odds, especially when the stakes are so high,” Dockery, a state senator from Lakeland, said in a statement released Monday morning. “But I'm also a realist and understand the costs of effectively competing statewide. At this point in the election cycle, I see no financial path to victory.”

In the first quarter of 2010, Dockery raised more than $325,000 in less than two months. The haul marked an increase over the $291,734 Dockery collected in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, the first of her campaign, but was nowhere near McCollum’s $1.4 million for the period between the beginning of January and the end of March.

Further complicating matters for Dockery was the late entrance into the race of Scott, who is the former chief executive of Columbia/HCA Health Care. Scott led Conservatives for Patients Rights in opposition to President Obama's health care overhaul, putting $5 million of his own money into an ad campaign against the proposal. He indicated that he was willing to do the same in the governor’s race, spending about as much on his initial round of television commercials as McCollum had raised in the entire campaign.

Dockery, who is perhaps best known in the Legislature for her fierce opposition to the proposed SunRail commuter train in Orlando, tried throughout her campaign to avoid being seen as a one-issue candidate, especially with the train having already been approved. But she struggled to break into the first tier of candidates perceived to have a viable shot at winning: McCollum on the Republican side and Democratic candidate Alex Sink.

Dockery framed her campaign as a direct response to the Republican establishment lining up squarely behind McCollum early in the race. She said Monday that her message was not the reason her campaign did not take off as she expected.

“Six months ago, I entered the race with a firm belief that the people of Florida deserved a candidate who would put an end to ‘politics as usual’ and restore integrity, honesty and openness to the business of running our state,” she said. “Our reform message resonated well with the thousands of people we reached and I am grateful and humbled by the outpouring of enthusiasm, encouragement and support I received as I logged thousands of miles on the white Ford Explorer.”

Though her husband, C.C. Dockery, led a high profile push for a high-speed train between Tampa, Orlando and Miami a decade ago, Dockery struggled in her first statewide race to garner name recognition. A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed McCollum leading Dockery 56 percent to 7 percent. Eighty-five percent of the poll's 1,250 respondents said they did not know enough of Dockery to form an opinion.

McCollum congratulated Dockery on “running an enthusiastic and substantive campaign for governor,” and praised her record in the Legislature.

“From growth management and water issues to ethics reform, Paula has been an important voice in the Florida Senate and a dedicated and vocal advocate for the constituents of District 15,” he said. “I wish Paula well in the next chapter of her public service and look forward to working with her toward a better Florida.”

More than running just against McCollum Dockery campaigned against the Republican Party establishment, which was in the throes of a scandal about spending campaign contributions that led to the resignation of former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer and still continues. Dockery maintained that the GOP should release statements of party credit cards issued to Greer and other legislative leaders. The party resisted for months, but ultimately released the records this month.

Running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination at a time when the state and national Republican Party appear to be growing more conservative, Dockery also faced problems from her moderate reputation in the Legislature. She frequently referred to herself as pro-life and pro-gun and memorably switched her vote in the final days of the 2010 session on a controversial bill that would require many women seeking abortions to hear about an ultrasound, even if they choose not to look it.

Dockery voted yes on the final vote on the measure after voting against adding the language to a broad health care measure. In debate on the measure, Dockery took exception to ardent backer Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Venice, claiming the mantle of "the only pro-life woman" in the Senate.

"You're not the only pro-life woman in this chamber…and I take that stance very seriously," Dockery said to Storms on the floor. "I'm very torn because I would love it if every woman decided for herself that she was not going to have an abortion and I would love it if we had the safety net there to help that woman through a very difficult time…but that safety net isn't there."

Dockery did not mention in her statements Monday about ending her campaign what he future plans will be, though she will be barred by term limits from running for another term in the Senate.

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