A month after announcing his candidacy, local jeweler Leo Hamel said Thursday that he was dropping out of the race to succeed Republican Assemblyman Brian Jones in East County’s 71st District.

Leo Hamel  watches family assemble a puzzle in scene from TV commercial. Photo via YouTube.com
Leo Hamel watches family assemble a puzzle in scene from TV commercial. Photo via YouTube.com

First in a post on sdrostra.com and then in a KOGO phone interview with Carl DeMaio, Hamel said he had come to the conclusion “that the impacts on my time and family in pursuing this effort would be far too great at this point in my life.”

During a recent business trip, the Republican told DeMaio, “it really hit me how important it is to be a father. Made me realize I don’t want to be away from my family,” which includes two young girls who appear in his commercials (saying: “Come see us!”).

Hamel, 59, didn’t mention the questions raised about his Scientology connections. He told Times of San Diego in mid-March that he joined the controversial religion as a teenager.

In the sdrostra statement, Hamel said he entered the race “with a genuine desire to make a positive impact in Sacramento for my neighbors and fellow citizens in San Diego. … Although my desire to effect needed change in the Legislature is the same, I’m very confident we already have a great conservative candidate running for the seat who will pursue just that.”

He said he contacted Santee Mayor Randy Voepel on Thursday to let him know he was ending his campaign “and that I’m wholeheartedly supporting him as our next assemblyman.”

Hamel entered the race a day after Mike Harrison, another Republican, ended his own campaign.

Voepel, with greater name recognition, is considered the favorite to win the seat of termed-out Jones, who is running for state Senate. The other remaining candidate is science-fiction author and Union Bank executive Tony Teora. The county Republican Party has made no endorsement, however.

Teora raised the religion issue, having said he asked the TV figure “point-blank” if he was a Scientology member.

“He was very careful about his answer,” said Teora, 52, a Julian resident. “He said that he’s a Christian and that he’s going to Christian schools, and he used Scientology’s business study program.”

Hamel “really didn’t answer the question” about his current status in the church, Teora said.

But in a brief chat with DeMaio, Hamel didn’t rule out a future political campaign.

“I feel I have to put family before politics right now,” he said. “When the kids are a little older, I believe I’ll run again.”