COLUMBIA — Furman University professor Brent Nelsen said Tuesday he's dropping his bid for governor and will run for the Republican nomination for state education superintendent.

Nelsen noted he'd only been running an exploratory campaign for governor. As he spoke to groups around the state, he said, it became clear education was an area he could take on and people began to urge him to shift to the state's top education position.

"I could serve the state best by focusing on education and running for this particular office where I can make a big difference," Nelsen said.

Nelsen leaves a crowded pack for the GOP nomination that includes the undeclared candidacies of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster.

The political science professor is a novice in seeking elected office and his fundraising was lackluster. He finished the second quarter with $1,727 on hand and had raised just $24,373 for the race.

"Here's the difference: Senator DeMint is my campaign chairman this time. That's is going to help tremendously," Nelsen said. His campaign later clarified that U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint is serving as an honorary chairman.

DeMint himself is up for re-election with no GOP challenger in the 2010 race. Nelsen said he's put together a finance team and has scheduled a couple of fundraisers.

For now, it's unclear whether Democrat Education Superintendent Jim Rex is running for a second term. Rex's political adviser, Zeke Stokes, said Rex will announce plans in September.

Nelsen said his exploratory efforts for governor have given him more statewide exposure than others entering the race may have. "The message was winning. The message was getting through," he said.