updated 1/5/2004 12:23:11 PM ET 2004-01-05T17:23:11

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez began his run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate on Monday, saying he is not banking on his presidential connections to win the primary.

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Washington-based attorney Ken Connor, a longtime friend of Martinez’s, filed papers with the secretary of the Senate and had a copy delivered to the Federal Election Commission. It allows Martinez to begin raising money for the campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham.

Martinez said he would immediately begin calling supporters to raise money.

“You want to try and earn this nomination one Floridian at a time,” the Orlando Republican said. “I’m not counting on anything being handed to me.”

Martinez, 57, rejected earlier overtures from the White House to run for Senate because he preferred to run for governor when Gov. Jeb Bush’s second term ends in 2006. But he reconsidered after Graham announced his retirement in November and fresh White House appeals. He has been planning his campaign since he resigned his Cabinet post last month.

First Cuban-American in Cabinet
The Cuban-born Martinez, the first Cuban-American to serve in a presidential Cabinet, was Orange County’s chairman — the equivalent of county mayor — before President Bush tapped him as HUD secretary. He served as co-chairman of George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign in Florida.

Republican Senate hopefuls include former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood, state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City, state Sen. Dan Webster of the Orlando area, Miami lawyer Larry Klayman and former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith of Sarasota. U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, Florida’s former secretary of state, is also considering a run.

The White House repeatedly urged Martinez to run, hoping his candidacy would shove aside Harris, who was at the center of the controversial 2000 presidential recount. The president’s political advisers fear her candidacy would drive up turnout by angry Democrats, hurting Bush’s chances of carrying the state, which will be vital to his re-election prospects.

Democrats seeking the seat include former Education Commissioner Betty Castor of Tampa, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of the Fort Lauderdale area and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas.

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