JEB ISN’T RUNNING IN FLORIDA…. After gearing up for a likely Senate campaign in 2010, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) announced this afternoon that he’s not running.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will not run for the open Senate seat of Sen. Mel Martinez, he announced in a statement released moments ago.

“After thoughtful consideration, I have decided not to run for the United States Senate in 2010,” said Bush. “While the opportunity to serve my state and country during these turbulent and dynamic times is compelling, now is not the right time to return to elected office.”

Bush’s decision robs Republicans of a top-tier recruit who would have immediately been favored to hold Martinez’s seat. Without Bush in the race, Republicans are almost certain to play host to a crowded and competitive primary.

This will, of course, put a crimp in his father’s hopes to see yet another President Bush in 2016.

Jeb’s announcement comes as something of a surprise. As recently as two weeks ago, it appeared that the former governor was poised to officially launch a campaign, lining up would-be contributors and picking up support from party leaders. Bush would have been handed the party nomination on a platter, and would have been favored to win the seat. Over the last 48 hours, however, Bush pulled back, leading to today’s announcement.

Today’s news will be a boost to Florida Democrats, who see the seat as a key pick-up opportunity. The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, at least for now, is Florida’s chief financial officer, Alex Sink (D), the only Democrat on the state cabinet and the only woman to hold a statewide office. Also in the mix are Reps. Ron Klein, Allen Boyd, Robert Wexler, and Kendrick Meek, as well as state Sen. Dan Gelber.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Connie Mack IV has expressed interest in the race, and with Bush out, state Attorney General Bill McCollum, who’s run for the Senate before, is almost certain to run. No word yet on whether Gov. Charlie Crist (R) might be interested.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.