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Harris puts her faith in religion

As more campaign advisers prepare to jump ship, religion takes a bigger role in her Senate candidacy.

By ADAM C. SMITH and ANITA KUMAR
Published March 25, 2006


As Katherine Harris' rocky Senate campaign takes an increasingly evangelical Christian bent, her remaining top campaign staffers are preparing to jump ship.

Colleagues say Harris' closest confidante lately appears to be spiritual adviser Dale Burroughs, founder of the Biblical Heritage Institute in Bradenton.

"Dr. Dale," as she is known among campaign staffers, describes herself as a licensed clinical pastoral counselor who counsels in behavior temperament, career, crisis and disaster, among other things.

Burroughs has been advising Harris for years, but lately has had a more prominent role as Harris stopped listening to other campaign advisers. Burroughs said she has little role in the campaign beyond helping reach out to religious voters and is merely a Bible study partner and close friend.

Friends and advisers say Harris has been deeply religious all her life, but religion recently has become a central part of her campaign. Campaign staffers warily describe Harris as leading a "Christian crusade."

"It was always part of the background, but it was never an integral part of the campaign. It never engulfed her," said former campaign manager Jim Dornan, who quit the campaign in November but keeps in touch with staffers. "She's grasping for a pillar she thinks this campaign can be raised on."

Her top campaign advisers, having failed to persuade Harris to drop her struggling campaign against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, are preparing to leave. Those include Ed Rollins, a highly regarded GOP strategist and her top campaign adviser; Adam Goodman, her longtime Tampa-based media consultant; and campaign manager Jamie Miller. Harris has been aggressively campaigning for support among religious conservatives, hitting large churches and headlining a "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference in Broward County last weekend. She told hundreds of attendees she was "doing God's work" with her campaign.

Harris also hinted at her increased emphasis on her Christian faith when she talked to ABC's Nightline last week about spending $10-million of her own money to jump-start her Senate campaign.

"I am willing to take this widow's mite, this pearl of great price, and put everything on the line. No matter how much you have, are you willing to take what you have and sell it all for a great price," Harris said in the transcript provided by ABC News.

The widow's mite refers to a New Testament parable about a poor woman giving what little money she had to the temple.

Burroughs, a former staffer with Campus Crusade for Christ, said that in the last month Harris has been deeply moved by the Bill Bright book The Joy of Supernatural Thinking - Believing in God for the Impossible. The book explains that "it's not you trying to do something but God working through you. ... What we all see as impossible, God sees as possible," Burroughs said.

Harris could not be reached for this story, but after a speech on Tuesday night she signaled that a staff overhaul could be looming.

"I just have to retool and find people that are really committed to me," she told the St. Petersburg Times after an enthusiastic reception from the Florida Federation of Republican Women in Tallahassee.

In addition to the other campaign workers expected to leave, press secretary Morgan Dobbs and director of field operations Megan Ortagus are actively seeking new jobs with other campaigns.

An assistant finance staffer had her last day with Harris on Friday. Pollster Ed Goeas dropped off the campaign last week after advising Harris she should drop out because he saw no chance of success.

It's unclear who would lead her campaign once those staffers are gone, but Harris supporters recently have been reaching out for prospective new campaign professionals.

Burroughs said with a laugh that it would be "crazy" to think she might have any significant role in the campaign and said her role is simply as "a dear friend helping her refocus on the things she already knows."

Though little known in Florida political circles, Burroughs is well respected among some of the country's most prominent Christian conservative political activists. She is a spiritual adviser, for instance, to members of the Arlington Group, a coalition of religious conservatives that includes James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer of American Values, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association and Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell.

For months, Harris' campaign suffered from weak fundraising, heavy staff turnover and a lack of party support. She has trailed well behind Democratic incumbent Nelson in polls. Just as her campaign was starting to turn around, federal prosecutors revealed that a defense contractor at the center of a bribery case had given Harris more than $30,000 in illegal contributions.

Rather than pull the plug, Harris went on national TV to tell conservative commentator and Harris supporter Sean Hannity she was putting $10-million of her own money in. She invoked her father, who died in January, and sounded like she planned to invest her inheritance in the campaign:

"I'm going to put everything on the line. Everything. Not just my future and my reputation. My father's name. I'm going to take his legacy that he gave to me, everything that I have, and I'm going to put it in this race. I'm going to commit my legacy for my father, $10 million," she said.

Campaign advisers understood Harris wanted to put the inheritance in the race, but now say she won't have access to that money until after her mother's death. On Tuesday, she clarified to the Times that the money would come from her current assets, including selling real estate.

"My dad didn't leave me that money. This is what I have," said Harris, who is married to a millionaire and ultimately is expected to receive a large inheritance.

She has said she does not plan to put the money in right away, and she is expected to report just a few hundred thousand dollars on hand when her campaign disclosure report comes due soon.

Harris noted that federal campaign laws prevent her from loaning money to her campaign - then repaying herself later. "People know I'm putting it all on the line," said Harris, who has already put $250,000 of personal money in her campaign.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com