BOSTON -- Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray's surprise announcement that he would not seek the governor's office in 2014 promised to further reshape the political landscape in Massachusetts even as the state prepared for a likely special election for the U.S. Senate.
It had been widely believed that Murray was laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run, despite some setbacks including a 2011 car crash in which he was cited for speeding and not wearing a seat belt. Through December, the Democrat had raised $447,000 for his campaign account, more than any other statewide official, and had made little secret of his interest in succeeding Gov. Deval Patrick.
Murray also enjoyed the strong backing of Patrick, who said Friday he'd have been "all in" for his lieutenant governor had he chosen to run.
But in a letter to supporters, the 44-year-old Murray said family obligations led him to rethink the race.
He said he had grappled for months with how he could juggle the demands of a campaign with his responsibilities to his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 7.
"You're committing to six years of your life, 24/7," Murray told reporters in Worcester, referring to a two-year campaign and four-year term as governor if elected.
"At this point in my life and my family (I'm) not going to do that," added Murray, who also ruled out running for any other statewide office next year.
John Walsh, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic party, said Murray's decision throws the governor's 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."
Even before Murray's departure, other Democrats had been eyeing the governor's race, including state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who has said he is leaning strongly toward running. In a statement Friday, Grossman praised Murray's service to the state but gave no further 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.
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.
U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, the dean of the state's congressional delegation, is the only Democrat who has announced plans to run for Kerry's seat in the special election, which is likely to be held in the spring. U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch is also considering the race.
Murray, a former mayor of Worcester, has been forced to fend off some controversies since winning the lieutenant governor's office in 2006.
A state police report said Murray was driving 108 mph just moments before his state-issued car veered off a highway and overturned in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 2, 2011. He was not seriously injured but was issued a $555 ticket for speeding, not wearing a seat belt and a lane violation.
Murray said he had awakened early and gone to pick up newspapers and survey damage from a recent snowstorm when the accident happened. He reimbursed the state for the cost of the totaled vehicle.
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 had done little in recent months 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.