Add Ken Bennett to the growing list of high-profile Republicans who will not seek their party’s nomination for governor.
Bennett, president of the state Senate, said Friday he wants to spend more time with his family and continue rebuilding his gasoline distribution business in Prescott, which was recently destroyed by a fire.
Still, with a little more than a year left until voters go to the polls, Bennett was upbeat about his party’s chances to defeat Gov. Janet Napolitano in November 2006.
"If I have learned anything in the process of evaluating the race, it is that the incumbent is eminently beatable," he said.
Bennett joins the growing number of Republicans who have opted out of the race.
They include Rep. J.D. Hayworth, former Gov. Fife Symington, former state Attorney General Grant Woods and former Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.
Republican leaders maintain Napolitano can be beaten next year, but recent polls show it could be a tough fight. Last month in a survey of voters in Maricopa County — where Republicans have a registration advantage — 33 percent of likely voters said they will definitely support Napolitano.
Another 22 percent said they would likely vote for the governor.
"She has handled the issues so well it’s going to be a mountainous climb for anyone," said Earl De Berg, whose company Behavior Research Center conducted the poll.
It is seen as nearly impossible for a Republican candidate to win the governor’s race without taking Maricopa County — the state’s most populous region.
But GOP hopefuls still mulling a decision on whether to run say it’s too early to give Napolitano the win.
Recently retired Arizona Supreme Court Judge Jan Florez said Bennett’s announcement could clear the way for her to step into the political fray.
"I do not feel intimidated by Janet Napolitano at all," Florez said Friday.
Florez, who resigned from the court last week, said the governor was vulnerable on immigration and education.
While she has not officially announced her candidacy, Florez will seek the advice of close friends and advisers. She said she will make an announcement shortly, but would not set a date.
Mary Peters, former director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, said she will decide whether to seek the nomination by the end of the month.
Peters, who has never held an elected office, said she will discuss how she can improve her name recognition throughout the state before announcing her decision.
After leaving ADOT in December 2001, she was appointed by President Bush to head the Federal Highway Administration.
So far only two Republicans with any name recognition have stepped up to challenge for the party’s nomination: Former Senate President John Greene and Don Goldwater, the nephew of the late U.S. senator.