Friday, August 05, 2005

GOP Leaders Have Misgivings About Harris

ABC News
GOP Leaders Have Misgivings About Harris
Republican Leaders Have Misgivings About Rep. Katherine Harris' Run for Senate
The Associated Press

Aug. 5, 2005 - Republican leaders have been looking around for someone other than Rep. Katherine Harris to run for the Senate, fearing too many Democrats and moderates still despise her over her role in the 2000 presidential recount. But the GOP may be stuck with her.

The White House, National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and Gov. Jeb Bush tried to talk Florida House Speaker Allan Bense into joining the race for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's seat in 2006. But Bense decided this week not to run.

Rep. Mark Foley has expressed mild interest in running but has not made any firm commitments.

With Bense out, the GOP committee said that it is still talking to candidates who have expressed interest in the race, but that it isn't trying to recruit anyone to oppose Harris.

Similarly, the governor said he is not going to get involved in any more recruiting.

"I wish her well," he said of Harris, who announced in June that she planned to run. "I think she'll be a formidable candidate."

With her name recognition, ability to raise money and hero status among Republicans who believe she helped preserve President Bush's 2000 victory when she was Florida's secretary of state, Harris is considered the odds-on favorite to beat just about anyone in a Republican primary.

But Democrats still accuse her of helping to steal the election for Bush, who beat Al Gore by 537 votes after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped five weeks of recounts. And Republicans have privately said her negatives among independent and Democratic voters are so high that she will not be able to defeat Nelson.

In fact, it is widely believed that the White House and others asked her not to run.

"Clearly she was talked out of the race the last time around (in 2004) and clearly she had conversations with Karl Rove and others in D.C. who didn't want her to run this time," said Darryl Paulson, a University of South Florida political science professor and a registered Republican. "I don't think she's the right person at the right time, and I don't think there is a right time for Katherine Harris."

Harris campaign manager Jim Dornan said Harris was never told by the White House or the NRSC not to run, and he disputed the notion that she cannot win against Nelson.

"That is a completely false premise, for as `polarizing' as Katherine may be with Democrats, she is equally energizing with Republicans around Florida," Dornan said. "Moderates at the end of the day will see that what Katherine Harris did in 2000 is exactly what the law called for."

The Harris campaign's pollsters have said they believe the voters can be swayed when told about her accomplishments.

Geoffrey Becker, a political strategist and former state Republican party executive director, also rejected the notion that she cannot win.

"Her negatives aren't driven by votes or specific issues; they're driven by media coverage and partisan attacks," he said. "You cut through all that with a real campaign i.e. issues and votes and I think you come through with a more competitive race than people think it."