IMAGE:  Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla.
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images file
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., is stepping down as the chairman of the Republican National Committee after ten months on the job.
updated 10/19/2007 3:58:05 PM ET 2007-10-19T19:58:05

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.

Martinez said he was relinquishing the post to spend more time focusing on his constituents and because the RNC had achieved the objective he set when he assumed the job in January.

"It was my goal as general chairman to lead the party as it established the structure and raised the resources necessary to support our presidential candidate and ensure Republican victories next November. I believe we have accomplished those goals," Martinez said.

His departure was abrupt. Martinez wasn't expected to step down until a Republican presidential nominee was selected. The earliest that could occur is February.

No immediate replacement named
Martinez, a prominent Hispanic who previously served in President Bush's Cabinet, was named general chairman last November, after reluctantly agreeing to White House overtures to lead the party. He took the reins of the RNC in January. 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."

In a statement, RNC chairman Mike Duncan, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the party, 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.

There was no immediate word on a replacement.

By tapping the Cuban-born 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.

Martinez garnered a national profile amid the drama surrounding Elian Gonzalez, the castaway boy who was returned from the U.S. to Cuba in 2000 after an international custody battle.

The top county official in Orange County, Fla., at the time, Martinez argued on national television talk shows and before a U.S. Senate committee that the boy should stay in the United States. He also invited Gonzalez to Walt Disney World before the boy was returned to Cuba.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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