PHOENIX -- State Treasurer Dean Martin all but officially pulled out of the governor's race Friday.
In a prepared statement, Martin said he was "suspending" his campaign. He said that, given the state's problems, a contested Republican primary "would be a distraction" to solving them.
"While a serious debate about the fiscal condition of our state is needed, the heavy hand of the Obama administration will not allow this debate to continue," Martin said.
Martin, however, made no mention of the problems that have beset his campaign. But polls have shown him a distant third behind incumbent Jan Brewer.
In his statement, he did not formally endorse any of the three remaining GOP contenders. But he all but gave his blessing to Brewer over challengers Buz Mills or Matt Jette.
"I fully intend to support the governor in her battle with the Obama administration and its relentless attack on the people of Arizona," he said.
"Gov. Brewer is going to need all our help to shoulder the burden of defending Arizona from the federal government," Martin said in the statement. "It is our duty to stand together as Arizona residents against an intrusive federal bureaucracy."
While Martin termed his decision a ``suspension," his statement reflected a non-reverseable decision: He thanked his volunteers and said his service as a state official will end in December.
State Elections Director Amy Bjelland said it is too late to remove Martin's name from the ballots being printed, with early voting starting at the end of the month. She said a notice will be posted at all polling places if and when her office gets official word of his withdrawal from the race and any votes cast for him will not be counted.
Brewer, in her own prepared statement, had only kind words for Martin.
"I am grateful to have his support in our fight against the Obama administration and their failed policies including border security, health care, and job creation," she said in her own prepared statement.
"I agree with Mr. Martin that the greatest threat to Arizona s economic recovery is from the Obama administration and those who embody his agenda such as Attorney General Terry Goddard," Brewer continued, a reference to the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful.
Mills, however, said he sees Martin's decision as a plus to his campaign which has yet to take off against Brewer, saying that leaves him as the only alternative to what he has called the tax-and-spend policies of the current governor. Mills pointed out that both he and Martin opposed Brewer's call for a temporary one-cent tax hike to help balance the budget rather than making deeper spending cuts.
But Martin's departure may not help Mills: Even if Mills could get the entire 12 percent showing Martin had in the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, that still brings him to just 28 percent -- against 61 percent for Brewer.
Martin said he first entered the race in January ``because I did not want to see Goddard become governor."
At that time, Brewer's political future was dim at best.
In fact, a survey conducted within days of Martin's announcement showed that Goddard would defeat Brewer in a head-to-head contest. But the same poll showed Martin with a 9-point edge over the Democratic attorney general.
Since that time, however, Brewer's ratings and popularity have soared.
Voters ratified her call for a temporary one-cent hike in state sales taxes, over the objection of both Martin and Mills.
And she got a big boost with her decision first to sign the state's tough new law aimed at illegal immigrants and subsequently with her high-profile spat with the Obama administration over what she said is the failure of the federal government to secure the border. The noise Brewer was making got her a face-to-face meeting with the president and a lot of both local and national publicity.
By May, Brewer had a 13 point lead over Goddard; that stretched to a 53-35 percent edge by the last week of June.
Martin acknowledged that shift, saying that defeating Goddard "is still my goal, and is the reason I have made this decision to suspend my campaign."
Brewer's increasing popularity aside, Martin also found himself at a financial disadvantage because of his decision to run with public dollars.
That guaranteed him $707,447 once he gathered enough $5 donations to prove a base of support. And what it also was supposed to ensure is extra funds, up to $2.1 million, if any privately financed foe spent more.
But the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order blocking matching funds, leaving Martin and Brewer with only their initial allocation despite the fact that Mills at last report already had spent close to $3.2 million. And Martin lacks the ability to gain the free publicity that comes with being governor.
The rules of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission require candidates to return any unspent funds when they are no longer actively campaigning.
The Republican primary already has claimed two other contenders.
Former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker announced he would scrap his nascent campaign in January. And Tucsonan John Munger, former president of the Arizona Board of Regents, pulled the plug on his campaign in early June.