Beleaguered Democratic candidate Nina Hayden dropped out of the race for Congress on Monday, and also said she is dropping her lawsuit against state and local elections officials.
"I'm folding up shop," she told the Tampa Bay Times. "It just became a situation where the cost for litigation became too expensive."
Hayden said she is endorsing the other Democrat in the race, political newcomer Jessica Ehrlich.
They had been headed to an August primary, but now Ehrlich will face either incumbent U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young or one of his Republican challengers, Darren Ayres or Madeline Vance, in November.
Hayden, a former Pinellas County School Board member, presented herself as the more experienced candidate, but her campaign stumbled right out of the starting blocks.
The qualifying papers she turned in at the state Division of Elections were lacking the signature of the notary public who verified Hayden's own signature, and state officials said that meant she failed to qualify for the ballot.
"I handed in the document myself, and I asked the clerk there if it was okay, and he said, 'Yeah, it looks fine to me,' " Hayden said.
But later, after qualifying ended, she said, she was notified that it was not okay after all — and when she complained, "their reaction was, 'Oh well, better luck next time.' "
Hayden sued to get on the ballot — but that wound up causing what she called "a snowball effect."
When Hayden turned in her qualifying papers, she also turned in a check for more than $10,000 to cover her qualifying fee.
At the time she wrote the check, she said, she had that much money in her campaign account. But then to hire an attorney to sue elections officials, she had to spend thousands more.
She said she thought state elections officials would hold off depositing the check until after her lawsuit was resolved. They did not.
On Friday, they filed a motion asking a judge to declare her lawsuit moot because her qualifying check had bounced and it was too late for Hayden to cover the cost some other way.
Despite her disappointment, Hayden — who is an administrator at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport — said she is not done with politics and promised to be out campaigning for fellow Democrats throughout the year.
Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]