TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Paula Dockery's dream of becoming governor died Monday, done in by lackluster fundraising, paltry poll numbers and a rich rival's ability to buy the name recognition she needed.
"I see no financial path to victory," the Lakeland Republican told supporters in an e-mail laced with disappointment. "And so today, with both resignation that the resources are not there and appreciation for the journey we shared, I am ending my campaign to be governor of the great state of Florida."
Dockery's abrupt exit from the Republican primary came two days after a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9/Central Florida News 13 statewide poll showed her favored by just 3 percent of GOP voters. Attorney General Bill McCollum led with 46 percent and wealthy upstart Rick Scott captured 22 percent after spending more than $6 million on a TV ad blitz, with millions more yet to come.
For more than six months, Dockery had crisscrossed the state in her white Ford Explorer, criticizing politics-as-usual in the state capital where she has served for 14 years and in the Republican Party now under investigation for its spending practices.
Dockery entered the race in the fall on a boomlet after her success at temporarily blocking the state from spending millions on an Orlando commuter rail project. (The plan was ultimately approved in a December special session.) She also was among the few elected Republicans insisting that her party publicly account for its lavish credit-card spending practices.
Along the way, Dockery picked up pockets of grass roots support from people who were unable or unwilling to provide the money that is the oxygen needed to keep a statewide campaign alive.
Through March, Dockery raised $479,000, about one-tenth as much as McCollum's $4.7 million. To borrow a slogan from her campaign, there simply weren't enough "People for Paula."
In April, wealthy former Columbia/HCA chief executive Scott recast the dynamics of the race.
For Dockery, 48, dropping out of the race was more frustrating because she has pushed reform and has forcefully argued against the role of money in politics.
"When Rick Scott came in and immediately put $5 million and was on TV statewide, it shows what would happen when there is a choice out there," Dockery said in a Bay News 9 interview Monday. "It backed up my belief that this could be anybody's race from the very beginning if the resources were there."
Dockery has a net worth of $2.9 million and owns four homes. Her husband, C.C. "Doc" Dockery, is a wealthy investor. But she said from the outset that she wanted to succeed by building grass roots support, not by spending family money.
"I don't want to be governor bad enough that I'm going to have to throw a lot of money in to get there," she said in January.
Dockery's exit leaves a two-man Republican race between McCollum, a career politician who served 20 years in Congress and has run statewide three times, and Scott, a self-funded candidate with tea party support who has never sought office.
The McCollum-Scott race is sure to be framed as a contest between an establishment politician and an insurgent seeking to gain a firm foothold by running to the right of his opponent.
Scott quickly launched a new TV ad endorsing Arizona's controversial anti-immigration law and criticizing McCollum for opposing it. The ad lifts a McCollum quote from a West Palm Beach TV station report: "We don't need that law in Florida. That's not what's going to happen here."
Dockery is eligible to stay in the Senate through 2012, but press secretary Rosemary Goudreau said no decision on her political future has been made. Nor has Dockery made any decision about whether to endorse either of her rivals. An aide said the senator was bound for her vacation home in Boone, N.C.
Dockery's farewell statement had a bittersweet tone, with appreciation for the people she met along the way: "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 in the white Ford Explorer."
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.