TALLAHASSEE — Saying he simply didn't have enough money to run a viable campaign, Lawton "Bud" Chiles abandoned his longshot independent bid for governor Wednesday and said he plans to endorse Democrat Alex Sink.
"I need to be able to look people in the face and really believe in my heart that this was a campaign I could win and really be viable," Chiles told the Times/Herald. "I just got to the point where it was difficult for me to do that."
Many Democratic activists had been encouraging Chiles — a lifelong Democrat before he dropped his party registration in June — to leave the race since he entered three months ago.
Chiles, 57, began telling friends and supporters of his decision Tuesday afternoon after a one-hour lunch with Sink at a Hilton hotel in Fort Lauderdale. He is expected to formally endorse Sink today at a news conference in Tallahassee.
"I kind of came away feeling like she would love to have me say those things just the way I'm saying them, only with her," Chiles said.
While campaigning Wednesday in Miami, Sink said little about Chiles' decision.
"We had a good meeting," she said. "Our conversation was more about the state of Florida, the economic situation, and the issues that he has publicly said he is most concerned about. We found a lot of common ground."
Chiles said Sink did not offer him a role in her administration, nor did he ask for one. Sink said it is "premature" to discuss that possibility.
Sink added that "it's hard to speculate" whether Chiles would have attracted votes from her because polls were mixed.
In a statement Wednesday, Republican nominee Rick Scott's campaign said, "We have always planned on a two-person race for governor."
Chiles' decision could leave some Republican voters in a lurch. After this summer's bruising $70 million campaign, many GOP voters came away disenchanted with Scott. Chiles said he received a bump of support from former supporters of Attorney General Bill McCollum, who lost the primary.
Former Congressman Bill Grant, an ex-Democrat from the Panhandle who considers himself a conservative Republican, supported Chiles and now has nowhere to turn: "I haven't sorted it out."
"I can't imagine that I would be supporting Alex Sink because of philosophical differences," Grant said. "But it's hard for me to imagine supporting Rick Scott because of what he said about my friend Bill McCollum."
Some pollsters picked up on the interesting dynamic left by Chiles' departure. A survey last week by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling showed a significant chunk of Chiles supporters voted for John McCain in 2008 and don't like President Barack Obama.
Sounds like they're reliable Republicans, right? Problem is, they also don't like Scott.
"Chiles was a landing spot for folks who didn't like Scott or the Democrats," wrote Tom Jensen, director of the polling firm. "My guess is it ends up being a wash and having no real effect on the race."
Before he is back out on the campaign trail — this time in support of a former rival — Chiles said his short-term plans are to take the next few days off and try to get over a nagging cold.
Miami Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard and Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.