By BOB ANEZ/AP Political Writer
HELENA - Pundits and politicos had debated, speculated and prognosticated for months whether Gov. Judy Martz would run again or throw in the towel. In the end, it was anybody's guess which way she would go.
On one hand, few would have been shocked if this feisty, former Olympian had concluded that - despite the woes of her first term and sagging popularity with voters - she was going to battle the long odds to stay in office.
As Martz put it in announcing her decision Wednesday, ''I have never backed down from challenging situations.''
Equally few can be stunned that, given the rocky road Martz has been on and the emotional pull of family, she would decide enough is enough.
''The poll numbers didn't curb me, nothing curbed me,'' she said at the news conference in her Capitol office. ''Just when I go home, I just felt in my heart a real tug to be home.''
Martz insisted that the problems she encountered in her first term had not so soured her on the job that she didn't want it anymore.
But the governor's emotions may have betrayed her on that point.
In what was otherwise a surprisingly upbeat speech and news conference, her voice cracked only when she recounted that her elderly mom was the first person she told of her decision not to run.
''Mom, for a long time, has not wanted me to run,'' Martz said, explaining that Dorothy Morstein had long since stopped reading newspapers because of what she considered unflattering articles about her daughter. The bad news had taken its toll.
''She hated the media,'' Martz said.
Martz's troubles were varied.
She made the mistake of saying in December 2000 she was willing to be considered a ''lap dog'' for industry, if it meant she was a rabid advocate for jobs. She came under fire after reports that she made a joke about spouse abuse a month later at a Butte meeting. She has denied making the remark.
The Republican was accused by Democrats of ethical violations in a land deal with Atlantic Richfield Co., but cleared by the state political practices commissioner.
Some of Martz's top aides were found to have used state phones to make political fund-raising calls, prompting a resignation and Justice Department investigation.
Thirteen of her top staff quit or were fired during the first 28 months of the administration, including one who was investigated for allegedly threatening a former Martz aide.
Martz also drew fire for saying motherly instinct drove her to wash the clothes of a her chief policy adviser shortly after he had been involved in a fatal car crash near Helena.
A poll taken just three months ago showed Martz had the backing of less than one of five Montanans.
Craig Wilson, who heads the political science department at Montana State University-Billings, said it's unlikely that the litany of tribulations didn't play a subliminal role in Martz's decision.
''All politicians with bad poll numbers say they don't pay attention to the polls,'' he said. ''But the reality is almost all of them do. The continuing poor poll numbers in terms of job approval cast a long shadow over what she was trying to do.''
For her part, Martz said she was undaunted by polls or anything else political.
Family took precedent, period, and she's comfortable with her decision for that reason. ''In my heart I know I'm doing the very right thing,'' she said.
Wilson said Martz's choice was made easier by the wealth of Republican candidates in the race or considering a run.
Secretary of State Bob Brown and a pair of former state senators, Ken Miller of Laurel and Thomas Keating of Billings, already are campaigning. Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs and Billings businessman Pat Davison were waiting in the wings for Martz to act.
''It allows her to bow out gracefully,'' Wilson said. ''She leaves behind a fairly strong field of Republican candidates so no one can say, 'You're walking away from your party.'''
Brown, the apparent Republican front-runner for now, and Brian Schweitzer, the lone Democratic candidate, maintained Wednesday that Martz's departure makes no difference for them, their campaigns or their chances.
But Wilson believes the lack of an incumbent always makes it easier for challengers. In this case, Schweitzer may benefit the most, he said.
Debating is a strong point for the Whitefish farmer and former U.S. Senate candidate, and an incumbent such as Martz would be less likely to agree to debates, Wilson said.
Bob Anez, a Havre native, has covered the Montana statehouse and political scene for the AP since 1985.