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Election 2004

Harris turns eyes toward Senate

The U.S. representative and 2000 election lightning rod says she's seriously considering a run. Democrats say bring it on.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published November 8, 2003

Democrats think they could have a great weapon to drive their voters to the polls next year: Republican Katherine Harris running for U.S. Senate.

The freshman U.S. representative from Sarasota and famed figure from Florida's contested 2000 election said Friday she is considering running for Bob Graham's open Senate seat.

Harris, Florida's former secretary of state, caused a stir in political circles Friday when the Orlando Sentinel quoted her as saying she was seriously thinking about running.

By mid afternoon Friday, Harris had toned it down a bit, saying she was in no rush to decide.

"I'm thinking about it. Obviously, I will talk about this with my family," she said in a phone interview, saying she was flattered by the outpouring of Floridians encouraging her to run. "I don't anticipate a decision any time soon. My highest priority right now is fulfilling my responsibilities to my district. That's where my head and heart are now."

"Bring it on," crowed Michael Siegel of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the prospect of a Harris bid. "You could think of no greater lightning rod than Katherine Harris to bring up the 2000 election story once again. ... Without question she would energize our base."

Harris, a household name, fundraising dynamo and hero to conservatives across the country for naming George W. Bush the winner of the contested 2000 presidential election, would be an overwhelming favorite in the Republican primary.

She had been viewed as a more likely candidate for re-election to the House and then against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006. Campaign aides of other Republican Senate candidates on Friday doubted she would run.

Many Republicans think the White House would be reluctant to share the ballot in a crucial swing state with someone sure to fire up Democrats.

"The first photograph of George W. and Katherine Harris with their arms raised would bring out all the conspiracy theorists. I don't think the White House wants that at all for the 2004 election," said Michael Caputo, spokesman for Republican candidate Larry Klayman of Miami.

Still, an open Senate seat is rare, and Republicans say Harris could jump in if polling shows she would be a strong candidate.

Other Republican candidates for the seat include Klayman, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City, former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood, Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd and state Sen. Daniel Webster of Winter Garden.

J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, a Republican strategist who advised Harris during the 2000 recount, said he had not spoken to her about running since Graham announced Monday that he was retiring. But he said she would probably be a more daunting candidate in the GOP primary than in the general election.

"I don't think there would be any question she would energize both the Democratic and the Republican bases," Stipanovich said.

- Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 8, 2003, 01:47:02]


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