Mel Martinez, the public face of the Republican National Committee as its general chairman, announced Friday he was stepping down from his post after serving only 10 months.
“I believe that our future as a party and nation is bright and I have every intention of continuing to fight for our president, our party and our candidates,” the Florida senator said in a statement.
His resignation came months earlier than anticipated. Martinez wasn’t expected to step down until a Republican presidential nominee was selected, and the earliest that could occur is February.
The RNC said Martinez’ job would not be filled.
Martinez, a prominent Cuban-American who is up for re-election in 2010, said he was relinquishing the job to spend more time focusing on his Florida constituents. He also said the RNC had achieved the objective he set when he assumed the job in January.
“I would love to tell you that it was all a perfect world, but you know in a practical matter that it’s not, and sure, I think that the conflicting pressures and my always making the choice for the Senate, which is what I should and always did, at times caused frustration in not being able to get to an event or give a speech,” Martinez said in a conference call with reporters.
The RNC, which raised $61 million by the end of September, has been the only national GOP party committee to outraise its Democratic counterpart this year.
Though the party committee has done better than the Democratic National Committee in fundraising this year, Republicans have privately expressed concern that the RNC’s finances are not stronger. The RNC has not kept pace with the far more robust financial picture the party displayed in 2003, when it had raised more than $77 million by the end of September, and 2005 when it had raised about $78.5 million for the same period.
Martinez has shared the chairmanship with Mike Duncan, a longtime RNC official who has been responsible for the party’s day-to-day operations. Republican officials say with Martinez’ departure, the RNC will return to a traditional leadership structure with a single chairman.
President Bush named Martinez, who previously served in the Cabinet, as general chairman last November.
He had been reluctant to assume the role and did so only after repeated White House overtures. When he accepted the job, he had indicated to friends that he anticipated serving only about a year in the post.
“It was hard. It was more about me and my sense of being torn. At some point that wears on you a bit,” Martinez told reporters.
Several Republicans with close ties to the RNC said Martinez needed to focus on retaining his seat in Florida, where his job approval rating has fallen. A Quinnipiac University poll in September found that 38 percent of those surveyed said they approved of the job he was doing, down from 48 percent in February.
In addition, Republican officials say Martinez had grown frustrated with juggling his two jobs.
The first-term senator was brought on to be the face of the party, focusing on fundraising, outreach and travel to promote the GOP agenda.
In a statement, the president said Martinez “has effectively communicated our party’s commitment to addressing the issues most important to all Americans. His message of hope and opportunity has resonated throughout America and strengthened support for our agenda.”
Separately, Duncan called it an honor to serve with Martinez.
“Our party has effectively laid the groundwork for the 2008 Republican presidential nominee thanks in large part to Senator Martinez’s efforts,” Duncan said in a statement.
By tapping Martinez to be the party’s public persona a year ago, the White House had turned to a lawmaker who has been a staunch supporter of the president, including on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, including a guest-worker program.
Martinez served as Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2001 until 2003, when he resigned to run for the Senate seat left open by Democratic Sen. Bob Graham’s retirement.
Associated Press Writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Brendan Farrington in Florida contributed to this report.