TALLAHASSEE — In a sign of relief for Democrats, Lawton "Bud" Chiles III is expected to announce today that he is abandoning his independent bid for governor.
His departure would make it a two-way race between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott — a contest in which Chiles, a former Democrat, was expected to play spoiler.
Chiles, son of the popular late governor, met Sink on Tuesday for lunch and later began calling supporters.
"I certainly encouraged it," said Dick Batchelor, a former Orlando lawmaker who, like Chiles, advocates for children's issues. "Alex Sink definitely has a great chance to win if Bud is withdrawing. I think she will carry the banner Bud's been carrying."
Other friends noted that Chiles brought up worthy ideas during his campaign.
"He's in there for a reason, he has some issues he wants to talk about," said state Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, a longtime friend. "But it looks like all he would do is primarily draw votes away from Alex Sink, and knowing him, he didn't want to do that."
Chiles, 57, is expected to make a formal announcement today.
Launching his campaign three months ago, initial poll numbers showed him garnering a significant chunk of voters from across the political spectrum. But recent polls show his support eroding to single digits.
A week ago, Chiles told reporters he wasn't in the race "to create a situation where Rick Scott becomes governor." Many Sink supporters had compared Chiles with Ralph Nader, the 2000 presidential candidate who siphoned votes away from Democrat Al Gore and helped Republican George W. Bush get elected.
The timing of the announcement would mean Chiles' name won't appear on any ballots. At the end of the week, county election officials can begin printing the first batch of ballots, primarily for overseas voters.
Several top supporters said they worried Chiles might get out of the race. "I was afraid it was not looking good for him," said Dale Fuller, head of the Tallahassee Builders Association, who supported Chiles personally and not in her official role.
"He does have some good policies that I would hope that some other candidates would pay attention to."
It was unclear Tuesday if Chiles would endorse Sink's campaign. He has been deeply critical of Scott, however, both because he spent more than $50 million of his personal wealth in the Republican primary and for what Chiles considers extreme views on budgetary matters.
Chiles has said his key motivation for entering the race was to clean up the influence of special interests. By limiting donations to $250 and refusing money from political groups, he offered himself as a contrast to opponents who were planning to spend millions in TV ads.
Campaign finance records show Chiles raised and spent about $100,000 — well short of the threshold required to accept public financing.
Because Florida campaigns can be expensive because of the state's 10 media markets, he had been unable to get his message to a mass audience through television or radio.
Chiles made renewable energy a key platform in his campaign, holding several meetings with local environmental leaders. During one such event in Tallahassee a couple of weeks ago, Chiles sat with a handful of activists, lamenting why Florida isn't producing more renewable energy.
Chiles placed most of the blame on the Legislature, which he said should adopt a minimum statewide standard for renewables over the next decade. He also called for incentives that would allow power companies to make money when people conserve energy.
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.