Voters in Florida's 5th Congressional District will not see a rematch this fall between incumbent Ginny Brown-Waite and her predecessor, Karen Thurman.
Thurman, a Democrat, told the Times on Monday that she has decided to stay out of the race. To this point, her party had held out a Thurman candidacy as perhaps its best chance to retake the seat she narrowly lost in 2002.
"I'm not going to run," she said, listing a host of commitments, including family and civic service, that prompted her decision. "I'm really tracking some issues I really cared about in Congress, and I'm finding there are other ways to deal with these issues."
Thurman, 53, also mentioned her concern that the interest groups that had opposed her re-election two years ago would again funnel the same resources, which she estimated to be in the millions of dollars, into a campaign against her.
National campaign analysts suggested that Thurman's move hurt the Democrats, who have considered Brown-Waite vulnerable.
"She certainly would have been the strongest candidate for the Democrats," said Amy Walter, House editor for the Cook Political Report. "That's not to say Brown-Waite is completely out of the woods. But I would say her chances for re-election just improved significantly."
The Cook Political Report indicated in the fall that the race likely would fall off its watch list if Thurman bowed out of contention.
Democrats still could make a pitch for the district, Walter said, if the national political mood trends Democrat and the national party pushes hard for a candidate.
"If there's any kind of hope for Democrats . . . it's that there's a late filing deadline in Florida," she said. Candidates have until May 7 to file.
Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the Rothenberg Political Report, said Democrats can help themselves by fielding as strong a contender as possible to oppose Brown-Waite. The best time to beat an incumbent is during her first term, he said, particularly in a district so closely divided between the parties as Florida's 5th.
"It going to be even tougher later to beat her," Gonzales said.
Earlier in January, the Rothenberg Political Report listed the district among just three in Florida it considered "competitive." That rating was based on Brown-Waite's small victory _ she won only 48 percent of the vote to Thurman's 46 percent _ the even party split of registered voters, and perhaps most compelling, the possibility that Thurman might run.
"That was the main, or only, question mark," Gonzales said. "We were trying to give (Democrats) the benefit of the doubt that they could make it a competitive race."
Brian Moore, the lone announced Democrat in the field, welcomed Thurman's move, which she quietly has been telling area party leaders during the past few days.
"Hopefully, many Democrats will get off their hands. They have sat on their hands waiting for her to tell them whether she had committed or not," said Moore, who gained 2.4 percent of the vote as an independent in 2002. "It really put a hold on my fundraising efforts."
He said his candidacy is viable for the Democrats, even though he bashed the party during his campaign two years ago.
"I am returning as a reform Democrat and as an independent Democrat," Moore said, invoking the outsider brand of politics championed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. "The highest criteria for me will be the common good and general welfare for the country and not blindly following the party line."
Brown-Waite, 60, refused to look at Thurman's decision as a gift.
"It's far from a free pass," she said. "No election is a free pass when you have an opponent."
The incumbent has not opened a campaign office or hired an election staff, but said she planned to run hard, "as I always do."
"We always run like we're 20 points behind, and I certainly won't change that," Brown-Waite said.
Independent candidate Cynthia Cino, meanwhile, was chagrined with Thurman's decision.
"I guess it means I have to do it," Cino said of her bid.
Cino said she had hoped Thurman would enter the race, leaving room for her to drop out.
"I can't blame her. She feels like she's making a difference in the private sector, and with her grandchild," she said of Thurman. "I'm hoping someone will come forward."
Thurman, now a lobbyist, suggested that there's plenty of time for the Democrats to field a candidate, whether it be Moore or someone else. The campaign issues are ripe, she said.
"It is time for the district to have a debate," Thurman said. "I have been watching (Congress) go from surpluses to debt. We're not providing the services to folks. In my estimation, the Medicare bill was a sham. . . . It's not too late."