Breaking: Martinez resigning early; Update: Martinez for Martinez?

Mel Martinez had his Senate seat until January 2011, and the intervening months appeared to give Martinez plenty of policy matters to tackle — not the least of which was the opportunity to slow Barack Obama’s radical agenda on health care and energy policies.  Instead, multiple sources report that Martinez told his staff he would not return from the August recess, leaving Governor Charlie Crist to fill his seat by special appointment.  Since Crist has already announced his intention to run for that seat himself, who will he pick to keep his seat warm?

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) will be resigning from the Senate, according to several senior Republican sources familiar with his thinking.

He made the announcement at a morning staff meeting, where he said he will not be returning to the Senate after the August recess.

Martinez announced he wasn’t seeking re-election to the Senate last December, but he insisted that he would be serving out the remainder of his term, which expires in 2011.

It’s the second time that Martinez has resigned from a high-profile Republican office in the last several years. He stepped down as chairman of the Republican National Committee in October 2007 to focus more on his legislative responsibilities as a senator.

So far, no reason has been floated for the early resignation.  Martinez could be eyeing a run at the governor’s spot, which Crist plans to vacate in order to run for Martinez’ Senate seat.  If that’s the reason, Republicans in Florida could be forgiven for wondering why both men didn’t just stay put and avoid risking both positions.  If Martinez doesn’t plan on running for governor, then it becomes even less clear why he would quit with almost eighteen months left in his term.  A run for higher office doesn’t seem likely for Martinez, and quitting early would just about kill any chances of that anyway, especially given the precarious position of Republicans in the Senate.

What will Crist do?  He certainly won’t appoint himself.  He has the authority to do it, but it would not sit well with his constituents to make such a self-serving play.  Crist won’t appoint Marco Rubio, either, because he has no intention of running against Rubio in a primary after making him an incumbent.  He will need a safe, popular choice, one that poses no political risk for Crist while ensuring that the seat will be open in a Republican primary.

I’d guess that Crist will ask Jeb Bush to take the job.  Bush has not indicated any interest in the Senate seat, which is one of the reasons why Crist felt comfortable in running for it.  Despite the negatives associated with his brother, Jeb’s popularity remains high in Florida, and his replacement of Martinez will make Florida’s representation a little more conservative for the next year.  Bush won’t mind mixing it up with the Obama adminstration, either.  Crist could get Bush’s popularity to rub off on himself for his own Senate run next year.

Update: Marc Ambinder says Martinez is sick of office and of Republicans, and wants to bug out. That’ll help build the resume!  Another rumor is that the Martinez family is having some difficult personal issues, which would be a more sympathetic and understandable reason for resigning now.  Jim Geraghty hears that they may not have to change the signs in the Senate office buildings, at least not much:

It is rumored Gov. Crist will replace Sen. Mel Martinez with former governor Bob Martinez.

They’ll barely have to change the office sign.

Martinez?  Well, at least Crist won’t have to worry about competition, but that’s hardly going to cover Crist in glory.  Martinez left office after losing to a Democrat when his approval ratings hit somewhere below George Bush’s.  He went to work as Bush 41’s drug czar and did nothing to improve his reputation in the two years he served.  Crist doesn’t want to give the office to someone who could challenge him for the seat, but picking Bob Martinez is not going to make too many Floridians very happy.

Update II: Val Prieto has Martinez’ resignation statement. He’s also got Rubio’s statement.