Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette has suspended his campaign for election to Orange County mayor.

Sublette, the only county-wide school board chairman Orange County has ever had, announced late Thursday he was shutting down his campaign “with mixed emotions.”

“There is no single reason I can point to that explains my decision. I considered many factors and simply came to the conclusion that now is not the right time to continue my campaign,” he said in a written statement issued by his campaign.

He was not available to elaborate, and a campaign spokesman said his statement was all he was releasing for now.

Sublette was once considered a potential front-runner to succeed term-limited Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs this year. But what started out looking like probable tough two-candidate contest with the anticipated entry into the race of Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, turned into a battle-royale with two other major candidates joining, Winter Park businessman Rob Panepinto and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke.

Sublette, Panepinto, and Clarke all are Republicans, as is Jacobs, in a county where Democratic voters are growing in dominance. While the mayor’s race officially is non-partisan, the most-anticipated scenario was that Demings would roll through the August 28 first-round election with strong Democratic support, while Sublette, Panepinto, and Clarke were battling for the second spot in the November 6 runoff election. At this stage, Sublette, Panepinto and Clarke, for the most part, were competing for the same money, supporters, and endorsements.

There was no word on whether Sublette, an Orlando attorney who served eight years in the Florida House before being elected and then re-elected school board chairman, might now consider running for a third term as school board chair. But it’s probably not a likely scenario.

“I entered this race focused on my vision for Orange County of providing meaningful job opportunities for our citizens – especially our working poor, providing better protections for those most vulnerable in our community, including children, building a stronger, functional public transportation network, tackling the root causes of multi-generational poverty, preserving our County’s natural resources, and ensuring the safety of our citizens,” Sublette said in his statement. “I still believe my priorities are important to the future of our county, and I intend to continue advocating for these issues as a private citizen.

“To all of those who encouraged me to run and supported my campaign, I cannot thank you enough,” he concluded. “Your confidence in me is deeply appreciated and will not be forgotten.”

Panepinto, former president of Orlando Inc., the Orlando regional chamber of commerce, got off to a surprisingly strong start in fundraising, after he, Sublette, and Clarke all filed to run within a few days of each other last fall.

In the most recent campaign finance reports, through the end of the year Sublette had about $114,000 in his campaign account; Clarke, the candidate most likely to flourish through a low-budget, grass-roots effort, $33,000; Panepinto, $247,000; and Demings, $293,000.

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