BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville Democrat David Welch has dropped out of the race for an open state House seat.
Welch, 49, made the announcement on Facebook early Tuesday.
He wrote that a "family situation" is forcing him to withdraw from the race for the District 35 seat, currently held by Rob Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican who must leave office because of term limits.
"I am deeply disappointed but family must come first," Welch wrote. "However, I plan on coming back into politics in the 2016 election. My heart is broken that I can not serve right now in a political office, but I will be back — just want to take care of family first."
Welch declined to elaborate in an interview, saying it was a personal matter that he wanted to keep private.
A residential counselor at a mental health center and president of the Hernando chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Welch filed in October and was the first Democrat to enter the race.
For now at least, his departure leaves a clear primary path in the Democratic primary for former Hernando County commissioner Rose Rocco, 72, of Spring Hill, who filed earlier this month.
Spring Hill homebuilder Blaise Ingoglia was the only Republican in the race as of early Tuesday. Ingoglia, 43, is chairman of the Hernando Republican Executive Committee and vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
"It's a shame he's pulling out, but fortunately we have someone who has the depth of experience who can do a job of representing us in Tallahassee," said Hernando Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Steve Zeledon.
Asked if he would be throwing his support behind Rocco, Welch said he plans to stay neutral for now. He said he considers Rocco a friend but is hopeful a stronger candidate will jump into the race. He noted Rocco's anemic fundraising in her unsuccessful 2012 bid against Schenck.
"Rose has got a great heart, but we need somebody who's going to show some real leadership and I don't know if she's got that in her," he said.
Rocco noted her involvement in various community organizations over the years.
"I think I've proven my leadership with all the groups I've chaired or presided over," she said. "That's not something I feel I need to defend."
District 35 includes most of Hernando, except for the area generally north of State Road 50 and west of the Suncoast Parkway.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.