It is the dream of every number two to be number one, and it seemed Timothy P. Murray had been striving to make that happen. He raised the money. He led the roundtable discussions on freight rail service in North Grafton. He stood behind the governor and nodded during press conferences.
But on Friday, the 44-year-old Worcester Democrat called it all off. The lieutenant governor said he wanted to spend time with his family, not run for governor in 2014. Murray, however, had also been contending with some political baggage, including low poll numbers, a mysterious high-speed car crash on an early morning in 2011, and a political friendship with a former housing authority director now under a joint federal and state investigation.
Murray’s decision reshapes the emerging 2014 governor’s race, broadening the field and allowing Governor Deval Patrick’s seasoned team to seek out new — less blemished — candidates to back.
The sudden announcement by Murray, a former Worcester mayor, surprised many on Beacon Hill. Despite the controversies, he had raised $447,000 last year, more than any other candidate with fund-raising accounts at the state level. And in November, Murray told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, ‘‘Like many of you in the room, I would like to be governor.’’
But Murray had been taking his time making a final decision, and advisers pushed him not to wait until spring or summer, given the competition among Democrats to secure key supporters, according to a Murray adviser.
Some of Patrick’s key supporters were waiting anxiously on Murray, with some saying they planned to support him. But the road would not have been easy, given a number of factors, possibly including the tax proposal unveiled by Patrick this week that would raise $1.9 billion for transportation and education.
On Friday, in a sometimes combative press conference with reporters in Worcester, Murray maintained that his decision had nothing to do with the political controversy surrounding Michael E. McLaughlin, who resigned as Chelsea housing authority director in 2011 after the Globe revealed he deliberately concealed his $360,000 salary from state regulators. Investigators are looking into multiple issues surrounding McLaughlin, including his political fund-raising on behalf of Murray.
“This is a family decision, a personal decision, about how I want to spend the next two years, to six years,” Murray told reporters, after a speech promoting Patrick’s plan to rebuild the state’s transportation system. Murray said he would not seek any office in 2014, but did not rule out a future run.
Patrick stood by him at the lectern, along with the governor’s Cabinet, as more than 100 supporters cheered their native son. “Because I so respect his judgment, his love for his family, and his maturity in many respects in putting his family above his political ambitions, I have mixed feelings,” Patrick said. “Because, had the lieutenant governor decided to be a candidate in the coming election, I was all in — all in.”
Kind words came from politicians around the state, including a would-be rival for the Democratic nomination, Treasurer Steve Grossman, who praised Murray’s service and “deep commitment to focus first and foremost on his family responsibilities.”
The chairman of the Democratic Party, John Walsh, said the withdrawal would increase the odds of a “spirited primary.”
“Tim’s decision throws the 2014 Democratic Primary field wide open,” he said in a statement. “If he had decided to run, with the full support of Governor Patrick, Tim would have been a formidable entry in the field.”
In addition to Grossman, potential Democratic candidates include Donald M. Berwick, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and State Senator Dan Wolf, the founder of Cape Air.
Murray’s exit could also clear the way for US Representative Michael E. Capuano, an urban liberal who would draw some of the same supporters as Murray. Capuano, a former Somerville mayor, said this week he will not run for Senate.
His spokeswoman, Alison Mills, said Capuano “has already received a great deal of encouragement and will consider other opportunities at the appropriate time.”
Charles D. Baker, a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, is considering another run as well.
In an October poll by the Globe, 27 percent offered a favorable opinion of Murray, compared with 22 percent who said they viewed him unfavorably.
But even with his image problems, he had the likely backing of the governor and the platform of statewide office, a combination that has made several of his predecessors formidable and sometimes winning candidates for the top job.
“A lot of other candidates are going to go courting that financial network and organizational support that Murray would have had,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a Stonehill College political scientist.
Ubertaccio said that, in addition to the car crash and McLaughlin issues, Murray would have had to defend Patrick’s tax plan, which could also prove a challenge to others seeking the nomination.
“It’s going to be very difficult for Democrats in 2014 to run defending higher taxes,” he said.
Republicans seized on the same point.
“The timing of it makes it seem as if the governor’s proposal for the largest tax hike in state history would have been the greatest of all burdens,” said Tim Buckley, spokesman for the state Republican Party.
Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, said Democrats cannot afford to lose focus on the corner office, even as many are now more interested in the race to replace Senator John F. Kerry if he is approved as secretary of state. Johnston worries that candidates for governor will lose six months of fund-raising activity because of the expected Senate election.
“The governor’s race is the name of the game for our state and certainly for the Democratic Party,” he said. “The Senate race is very important also, but running state government remains the principal job in the state.”
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