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The Buzz: Florida politics

Harris offers upbeat outlook on Iraq

By wire services
Published February 19, 2006

She wasn't in Congress yet for the vote to authorize war on Iraq, but Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris voices no misgivings about that decision. "The most important thing that our troops are doing, while we're creating this beacon of hope and democracy in the Middle East ... they're capturing and killing those terrorists in Iraq and not here," Harris said in a taped interview airing on today's Political Connections on Bay News 9.

"There's a reason we haven't been attacked again (in America)," the Sarasota representative said, noting that Sept. 11 ringleader Mohammed Atta trained to fly planes in her congressional district.

In the same week that Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he thinks the situation in Iraq is "getting worse," Harris offered an upbeat assessment after recently returning from Iraq. "There are a lot of things we could have done differently or should have done differently," she said, and suggested the United States needs to invest more in Iraq's infrastructure, including its banking and judicial systems.

Political Connections is a joint venture between the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9. The interview airs at 11 a.m. It can be seen on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay On Demand) starting Monday.

Harris is running to unseat Democrat Bill Nelson, who has blasted the administration's handling of the war and accused the administration of misleading him into authorizing the war with bogus claims about the threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein. Harris touted her "grass fire" grass roots campaign and said Republican leaders are no longer skeptical about her campaign: "At the national level, I think they were a little nervous about the word "recount.' But now through polling and other data they've found that ... I'm not nearly as polarizing as they thought - far less than the Bushes, and they won overwhelmingly."

While the GOP leaders second-guessing her ability to win haven't shown much loyalty to her, she was still cautiously standing by Tom DeLay, the former majority leader facing criminal charges. "I know him personally, and from all that I know he's always been a very strong, godly man," she said.

HILLARY'S HOSTS: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton will have a little something for everybody - big spenders, bigger spenders and huge spenders - when she hits Tampa on Saturday to raise money for the state Democratic Party. People can attend a reception with her at the Wyndham Westshore for $100 a pop (where a local contingent of the Florida-based draft Hillary for president group,, plans to be stationed). Or they can get a little cozier with her at a $1,000-per-person reception outside the home of Janet Cruz-Rifkin. For $10,000 per person they can get up close and personal inside Cruz-Rifkin's Tampa home at a luncheon sponsored by Cruz-Rifkin, her daughter and former state Democratic Party executive director Ana Cruz, and Tampa artist Sarah Scher. Clinton's three-day Florida swing this week also is to include a Palm Beach fundraiser for Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election (hosted by Michelle and Howard Kessler); and fundraisers for her own re-election campaign in Miami-Dade (hosted by Ira Leesfield), Orlando (hosted by Richard Swann and Jim Pugh), Fort Lauderdale (hosted by Chris Korge, Alex Heckler, Bruce Udolf, Nan Rich and Diana Wasserman-Rubin) and Captiva (hosted by Bruce Strayhorn ).

GIFT BAN? WHAT GIFT BAN? Oh, that's right, the state's new ban on gifts from lobbyists still doesn't apply to fundraising, Tallahassee's favorite pastime. At the University Club at Doak Campbell Stadium, the Senate Republican Caucus swilled drinks with dozens of their closest lobbyist friends. No Smirnoff here though. Only Grey Goose, Chivas Regal and other top brands. After the "Host" cocktail hour on the fifth floor, there was an appetizer buffet and open bar for the "General Reception." State Senate President Tom Lee - a little late because he'd been talking to former Gov. Reuben Askew's Florida State University class on public administration - thanked crowd members, who were almost exclusively lobbyists, mind you.

Price tag for the night: Anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000 a person in a soft money donation to the Republican Party, depending on how many of the events you attended. Actually, some people paid more. Several senators were seen carrying checks in sealed envelopes for their personal campaigns. Five large placards - hosts, sponsors, platinum club, president's club and gold club - thanked a who's who of Republican donors.

SECRET MEETING: The ongoing battle between Republican state Sens. Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach and Alex Villalobos of Miami over who will be Senate president in 2008 prompted Senate President Tom Lee last week to call his first closed-door caucus meeting. But Lee rebutted assertions that the meeting is a sign that the intraparty tensions of the past week have led to a fractured GOP caucus. Lee said he called the meeting to be proactive.

"As a Republican caucus, we have to go every two years to the electorate, and we better be able to run on something," Lee said. "I pointed out internal presidential politics isn't much to run on."

Lee said he encouraged the senators "not to let their feelings get in the way of professionalism."

Adam C. Smith and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news check out

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:07:06]

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