Harris unfazed by staff losses

Key advisers have left her team, but the Senate candidate says her campaign is stronger than before.

Published April 2, 2006

Undaunted by the departure of all her key staffers this weekend, Rep. Katherine Harris said Saturday that she will press on with her campaign for the Senate and announce a new team in the next few days.

The St. Petersburg Times reported a week ago that her top advisers were planning to leave after failing to persuade her to drop her struggling campaign against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

Harris initially denied the report but acknowledged the resignations in a statement released Saturday night.

"These changes have been part of a thoughtful process at the highest strategic levels of my campaign," she said. "We are stronger as a campaign today than we were yesterday."

Harris said she had hired new staff members including a campaign manager, a national fundraising coordinator, a pollster, a Florida political field director, a press secretary and media consultants. She plans to introduce them early this week.

"Our campaign has relaunched with a new staff and is moving forward quickly to engage on the issues important to Florida voters," Harris said. "We have lined up a core team of seasoned campaigners who believe in my candidacy, are committed to this campaign, and support the values of mainstream Florida citizens."

Several former staffers said they doubt she has hired a new team. Just days ago, Harris was trying to recruit new consultants.

Colleagues say Harris has relied on religion more heavily than before, and that her closest confidante these days appears to be spiritual adviser Dale Burroughs, founder of the Biblical Heritage Institute in Bradenton.

Harris, a Longboat Key Republican, has struggled with weak fundraising and a lack of party support for months. She recently announced she would spend $10-million of her own money to compete with Nelson, whom she has trailed significantly in several polls.

In recent weeks, her campaign has lost key advisers, including pollster Ed Goeas, national financial director Anne Dunsmore, treasurer Nancy Watkins and media consultant Adam Goodman, who had worked with her on four previous campaigns.

Those who left this weekend include her top consultant Ed Rollins, campaign manager Jamie Miller, press secretary Morgan Dobbs, director of field operations Megan Ortagus and travel aide Fred Piccolo, a former Pinellas assistant county attorney.

"She's become a complete embarrassment," said Jim Dornan, a former campaign manager who left in November. "For the sake of the party, the sake of the White House, for her own self-respect, she needs to get out of this race."

Former Harris staffers said Harris had the locks changed on her Tampa campaign headquarters this weekend and hired a security guard to prevent them from returning.

"Former members of my campaign staff are committed to seeking opportunities elsewhere," she said in her statement. "I wish them well as they move on."

Brian Brooks, a press assistant who sent out the statement, could not be reached for comment.