Gov. Jeb Bush's choice of Republicans to run for U.S. Senate this fall announced Wednesday that he was declining the opportunity and won't challenge U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris for the party's nomination.

Allan Bense, the state House speaker, had been urged by several top party members to get into the primary against Harris, whose poll numbers have dwindled.

Bush had personally asked Bense to run and earlier this week went so far as to say Harris cannot beat the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson.

"I have been extremely honored and humbled by the strong support and encouragement I have received from my family, my friends and from people across Florida who I admire greatly," Bense, 54, said in a statement released by his legislative office. "However, I have decided not to run for the United States Senate."

He said the decision came down to "the fundamental question of whether I was willing to spend the next six, 12 or possibly 18 years of my life away from my family and my home serving Florida in the U.S. Senate. After much thought and prayer, I realized the answer to that question is 'no."'

Bush said he was disappointed but understood. He said he knew of no other Republican candidates being pushed to get in the race, but noted that potential candidates had until Friday to enter the primary.

The governor added that he wished "congresswoman Harris well."

A spokesman for Harris said she was in meetings and was not immediately available for comment.

Harris rose to national prominence as Florida secretary of state during the contentious presidential election recount in 2000 that resulted in the governor's brother winning the presidency.

That role brought Harris both strong supporters and committed opponents, and she has been unable to shake the divisive image during her two terms in Congress.

Recently, she has been dogged by staff turnover and her acceptance of $32,000 in campaign contributions from defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribing former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.