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Harris considers next move, her usual coterie in the dark

Longtime backers say she has kept her own counsel while deciding whether to stick with her U.S. Senate race.

By ANITA KUMAR
Published March 14, 2006


WASHINGTON - Republican U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris has kept even her closest friends and advisers guessing what she will say this week about her embattled campaign for U.S. Senate.

Harris, who plans a news conference as early as today, has shut out longtime supporters from Tallahassee and Washington who helped her run for state office and then Congress.

"Even though everyone is speculating what she's going to do ... she may shock everybody," said Pat Roberts, a longtime friend and a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Broadcasters. "I wouldn't want to put money on it."

Roberts, one of the many supporters who has not heard from Harris for weeks, said he would like to talk to her but she probably isn't calling her usual advisers because she knows what each would say. Now, he says, it's time for her to make her own decision.

Last weekend, Harris abruptly canceled plans to attend a Republican conference in Tennessee to take stock of her political future.

Harris' campaign, already suffering from weak fundraising, heavy staff turnover and a lack of party support, took another hit recently when federal prosecutors linked her to a defense contractor at the center of a bribery case.

J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, a Republican strategist who advised Harris during the 2000 presidential recount but hasn't heard from her recently, said that even though some expect her to drop out of the race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, history shows Harris doesn't always do what's expected.

"She can be very tenacious and hard-headed," Stipanovich said.

Harris could drop out of the race and announce she will seek re-election from her Sarasota area House district. Or she could resign her House seat to run for the Senate full-time.

But some expect Harris will simply announce new support or a new loan to herself.

Harris, who is worth $10-million to $39-million as an heir to citrus and cattle magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr., loaned herself $250,000 in the last quarter. As of the end of 2005, Nelson had $8-million on hand; Harris, $1-million.

As she campaigned in Arcadia Saturday, Harris signaled that key Republican leaders would reaffirm their support, though she wouldn't give any specifics.

"We have some very exciting things that will unfold next week," she said, according to McClatchy News Service. "We've had conversations. We're pretty clear on the overall support now of my race."

Harris stopped at the Clock restaurant before heading to the Arcadia Rodeo and accompanying parade, where she rode a horse, wearing a hot-pink shirt, jeans, boots and a black cowgirl hat.

--Anita Kumar can be reached at kumar@sptimes.com or 202 463-0576.

[Last modified March 14, 2006, 00:53:05]


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