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Bronson bows out, but fears grassroots Repub 'backlash'

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, under pressure from state Republican Party leaders seeking to avoid an expensive primary battle, said this afternoon he will not run for governor in 2010. But he left open the door to possibly changing his mind.

Bronson's announcement clears the path for fellow Republican and Cabinet member Bill McCollum, Florida's conservative attorney general, to run against Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat who also serves on the Cabinet.

Bronson was, however, careful not to completely rule out a possible run for governor. He noted there are 18 months to go before the 2010 general election, and not until July 2010 will candidates officially qualify. And as a political veteran who has been one of the party's more active members in campaigns over the years, Bronson knows a lot can change in 12 to 18 months.

"At this time, I will not be a Republican candidate for governor," Bronson told reporters. "If something should happen and I change my mind, I can always do that." He stressed it is "unlikely" he'll change his mind, but when pressed he said he is going to "just do my job and watch how this develops."

Bronson was not shy in discussing the pressure he has received from RPOF Chairman Jim Greer, who supports McCollum and wants him to be the sole candidate -- thus avoiding a primary.

"The situation got pretty rough pretty early on," Bronson said. "Politics is politics. I should have known, I guess, a little bit of this was coming when I mentioned to him a while ago that I was interested in running for governor, and he did look like the cat that ate the canary."

Bronson said finances motivated Greer and others, who worry about courting donations during an economic recession that isn't likely to end any time soon.

"I think it all became, 'What happens if the money comes short? What happens if the economy doesn't come back enough?' " Bronson said.

He worries, though, about a backlash from the "party faithful" who "just want to see a primary" that allows them to get to know candidates and their stance on issues.

"There are going to be party people at the grassroots level who will not be happy with how this played out," Bronson said, a clear dig at Greer's heavyhandedness in recent days. "I am sorry if I have disappointed them."

Asked what's next, Bronson smiled and said: "Go to the log cabin with my family and take a few days off."

What about running for Lt. Governor? Any interest?

"If I'm going to take that much heat," Bronson quipped. "I'd like to own the stove."