Former Sen. Mack withdraws as Crist campaign chair

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Gov. Charlie Crist’s political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, resigned Thursday as Crist’s campaign chairman in his race for the U.S. Senate.

Mack wrote a terse, two-paragraph letter to his one-time protege that said Crist was wrong to veto a bill (SB 6) that would have made it easier to fire teachers and tie their pay to student test scores.

“As you know, I strongly disagree with your veto,” Mack wrote his fellow Republican. “Your veto I believe undermines our education system in Florida and the principles for which I have always stood.”

Mack went on to say that Crist’s decision to veto the bill was “unsupportable and wrong.”

“As you can understand, I can no longer serve as chairman for your campaign for the United States Senate,” Mack wrote.

Mack, who retired in early 2001 after a dozen years in the U.S. Senate, addressed the letter to “Charlie” and said he valued their long friendship.

A phone message left on the governor's cell phone and with campaign officials was not immediately returned.

It was a difficult day for the first-term governor, who was also rebuked by his predecessor, Jeb Bush, for the veto. Crist announced the veto only a few hours after a poll by Quinnipiac (Conn.) University showed him trailing former House Speaker Marco Rubio by 23 points in their race to win the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.

That poll, however, suggested Crist could win a three-way contest if he chose to leave his party and run as an independent.

Crist was under enormous pressure on the education bill, once leaning in favor of it until two weeks of ferocious lobbying by school administrators and teachers – even some family members. Critics said they feared the proposal failed to address too many overriding concerns.

More than 100,000 e-mails and voice messages poured into Crist's Capitol office, nearly all wanting the measure vetoed.