INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced Friday she was dropping out of the 2016 Indiana governor's race and will instead seek re-election to her current job next year.
Ritz, a Democrat, has clashed repeatedly with Republican Gov. Mike Pence over education policy since they both won election in 2012. She announced a bid for governor in early June.
In a statement Friday, she said she had since decided "now is not the right time for me to run for governor."
"The best use of my time and talents will be to serve our children, their families and the taxpayers of Indiana as superintendent of public instruction," she said. "I must continue to be 110 percent engaged in supporting public education."
Ritz had trailed former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg badly in fundraising as they both sought the Democratic nomination for governor. Ritz ended June with about $110,000 in total campaign funds, far behind the $1.8 million Gregg had in the bank as he seeks a rematch of his 2012 campaign loss to Pence.
Pence campaign spokesman Robert Vane declined to comment on Ritz's decision.
The move by Ritz strengthens Gregg's chances for the Democratic nomination as the party's only other declared candidate is state Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage, who is little known outside her northwestern Indiana district.
Gregg said he would support Ritz in seeking re-election as superintendent. "Glenda Ritz has always put the best interests of our school children first and this decision is another example of that," he said in a written statement.
Pence enters his re-election campaign with huge advantages in fundraising and organization over possible opponents, but his image took a hit after the national backlash over the religious objections law he signed in the spring that critics viewed as anti-gay and business leaders opposed.
The Pence campaign reported about $4.2 million in the bank at the end of June.
Former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, who narrowly won a three-way Republican primary in a 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, said Ritz's decision was born out of pragmatism, likely based on fundraising considerations.
"They figured it just wasn't worth it and decided it was better to focus on getting re-elected," said Helmke, now a professor of public affairs at Indiana University. "It's better to make that kind of call early than doing it too late."
Ritz, 60, was a little-known suburban Indianapolis school librarian before upsetting Republican schools Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2012. Her campaign was largely run on social media and driven by teachers' anger over education changes pushed by Bennett under former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Helmke said it's unlikely the campaign will hurt her political future. "It's always good to have you name talked about," he said.
Ritz is the only Democrat among Indiana's elected state officeholders and has clashed frequently with Republicans over control of education policy — including the state's grading system for schools, the use of private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly performing schools.
Ritz said in her June announcement speech that she decided to enter the governor's race after a legislative session in which Republicans pushed through measures shifting some authority from her office to the GOP-controlled State Board of Education. Lawmakers backed off a proposal to remove her as the board's chairwoman midway through her term.
Republicans have criticized Ritz's management of the Department of Education and blamed her for troubles with this spring's state standardized exam, which was to have its testing time roughly double to 12 hours before she took steps just days before testing started to shorten the exam by three hours.
Ritz's campaign for governor had reported accepting about $8,000 in contributions during this year's legislative session, a potential violation of Indiana's campaign finance laws. Ritz blamed the problem on a clerical error.