BOSTON (AP) - Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, in a surprise announcement, said Friday that he had decided against running for governor in 2014.
"I have decided that I will not be a candidate for Governor in the 2014 election cycle. Nor will I be a candidate for any other statewide office in 2014," the Democrat and former Worcester mayor wrote in a letter to supporters.
It had been widely believed that Murray, despite some setbacks including a 2011 car crash involving a state vehicle, was laying the groundwork for a campaign to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick, who has ruled out running for a third term.
Murray, 44, said he had grappled for months with how he could juggle a campaign for governor with his responsibilities as lieutenant governor and family commitments. He is the father of two daughters, ages 6 and 7.
"This decision is not arrived at lightly and comes only after a great deal of reflection and numerous conversations with my wife, family and friends. I am thankful for the support and thoughtful words of encouragement I received from so many of you in the days and months leading up to my decision," Murray wrote.
The decision could dramatically alter the political landscape for the next Massachusetts gubernatorial election.
Democratic State Treasurer Steve Grossman has said he is leaning strongly toward running. In a statement Friday, Grossman said he respected Murray's decision and praised the lieutenant governor's service to the state, but gave no indication of his own plans.
Donald Berwick, a former health care official in President Barack Obama's administration, has also said he is considering the race, as has state Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich.
John Walsh, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic party, said Murray's decision would throw the race wide open.
"If he had decided to run, with the full support of Governor Patrick, Tim would have been a formidable entry in the field," Walsh said in statement. "With both the Governor's and Lt. Gov's offices now open in 2014, I'm looking forward to spirited primaries that will highlight the deep pool of talent in the Massachusetts Democratic Party."
Possible Republican candidates include Charles Baker, who lost to Patrick in 2010, and former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, if Brown eschews another run for Senate in a special election that would be held if Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state.
Murray had collected nearly $447,000 in contributions through the end of December, according to an Associated Press review of state campaign finance records, the most of the state's constitutional officers.
The numbers reflected Murray's continued fundraising muscle despite a series of political setbacks, including a pre-dawn highway crash in November 2011 in which he totaled his state-issued car.
A state police report said Murray was driving 108 mph just moments before his car sped off a state highway and overturned. He was not seriously hurt but was issued a $555 ticket for speeding, not wearing a seat belt and a lane violation in connection with the crash.
The Boston Globe reported last year that former Chelsea Housing Authority director Michael McLaughlin, who resigned amid reports that he was earning a $360,000 a year salary, had run an extensive political operation for Murray. While acknowledging that McLaughlin had been a political supporter, Murray said he was unaware of the hefty salary.
Murray has enjoyed the strong backing of Patrick, who had said on more than one occasion that he believed his lieutenant governor would make an outstanding governor.
He had done little to tamp down speculation that he was interested in advancing to the top job at the Statehouse. During a November speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, he joked: "Like many of you in the room, I would like to be governor."
Associated Press Writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)