The message on Skip Campbell's cell phone: "I guess I'm out playing golf or flying."
Perhaps too often.
The former Broward Democratic senator who launched a much-talk, little-action campaign against incoming Republican Senate President Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach has all but officially withdrawn from the race, leaving behind hard feelings with incoming Democratic Senate leader Al Lawson.
"Skip is pretty much out of it. I've had difficulty reaching him to make it official," said Lawson. "I'm not sure Skip was fully into it anyway. He liked the publicity, but he wasn't campaigning real hard."
Lawson said Campbell cited medical reasons (complications from hip surgery), but that the end result is a likely win for Atwater who will probably face a no-name opponent. He predicts "strained relations" in the Senate where Republicans might want to exact revenge over the Democrats' shattering of a fragile intra-chamber truce in this election year.
Lawson said that Campbell launched the race on his own, thereby scaring away other candidates, but then "lied" about filing his qualifying papers last month to make the run official. "We had to fly the paperwork up to Tallahassee and got it stamped at 11:55 p.m. Friday -- five minutes before qualifying closed."
Then, the following Monday, Lawson said Campbell called and said "I'm out."
Lawson: "You're kidding. What do you mean?"
Campbell: "You didn't do enough for me (fundraising wise), and I'm not going to spend a half million of my own money for a $30,000-a-year seat. Talk to my wife about it... I'm going on vacation to Maine for a few weeks."
Lawson: "Well, it's been great knowing you. I hope I don't see you again. Have a good vacation... He still hasn't officially withdrawn, so we can't get a replacement yet anyway."
Lawson said he approached a few viable candidates, like Fort Lauderdale Rep. Jack Seiler, but they all said no. Meantime, he said, Atwater has pressured donors not to give to the Republican party and sent messages to other Democratic senators that they could pay the price for their party's interference in his district.
Atwater spokesman Rick Wilson said he's not sure of that, but that "what really scares Democrats is Jeff got 9,000 signatures to qualify and he's wearing out shoe leather in the district. He's working his tail off."
Also, Atwater reflected the coastal district (drawn for him in 2002) better than Campbell, outraised him 10:1, and had key endorsements and grassroots manpower that included the powerful firefighter union. So though the GOP-drawn district is leaning Democrat during the Year of Obama, insiders gave Atwater the edge come Election Day, despite some polls suggesting he was behind.