Meet the Republican candidates

Harris faces three candidates in the September primary. The trio's late arrival into the race, combined with their lack of money and name recognition, make her the one to beat -- and the one who is unlikely to be beaten.

Published July 15, 2006

Rep. Katherine Harris never mentions her Republican opponents in her uphill battle to become Florida’s next U.S. senator.

Instead, she talks about incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in every campaign stop, in every speech, in every question-and-answer session as if she already were the Republican nominee in the race.

Many are surprised to learn that she is not.

Harris faces three candidates in the September primary. The trio’s late arrival into the race, combined with their lack of money and name recognition, make her the one to beat -- and the one who is unlikely to be beaten.

It took them almost two months but her opponents - LeRoy Collins Jr., Will McBride and Peter Monroe - just now are starting to raise money and campaign around the state full-time at parades and gun shows, civic clubs and churches.

They can’t stop talking about Harris. They question her ethics, her voting record, her electability in a general election against Nelson, who has strong support and millions of dollars in the bank.
Despite Harris’ new spate of problems, most political experts, even Republican strategists who oppose Harris, predict she will win the primary. Laste week, Harris lost most of her senior campaign staff for a second time, but for many she remains a GOP darling for her role as Florida secretary of state during the bitter 2000 presidential recount.

“Katherine Harris is the prohibitive favorite,’’ said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant who has previously worked for Harris but is not involved in the race. “A lot of people wish it were different, but it is not. The status quo remains what it is. She can’t be beaten. I don’t see anything changing.”

Collins, McBride and Monroe each jumped in the race just hours before the qualifying period closed in mid-May after prominent Republicans, including Gov. Jeb Bush, frantically searched but failed to find someone to run against her.

None has run for office.

The candidates’ mere presence forces Harris to spend some time, money and energy on the primary as they criss-cross the state informing potential voters that there are other options besides Harris, who has endured months of problems including resignations, weak fundraising and ties to an admitted briber.

“I agree with Katherine Harris (on the issues) but she seems to attract a lot of negative attention,’’ said Mary Johnson, who attended a lunch in Volusia County’s Orange City July 9 to learn more about McBride. “So we’ll see. I have to do my homework.’’

The strategy may work with some of the state’s 4-million registered Republicans but it will likely not be enough to win with less than two months before the Sept. 5 primary.

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed that Harris would garner 35 percent in a Republican primary, while a whopping 72 percent to 86 percent said they didn’t know enough about Collins, McBride or Monroe.


LeRoy Collins Jr.

Age: 71

Home: Davis Islands in Tampa

Resume: Retired two-star Navy admiral who later worked in high-tech financial services and real estate.

Campaign slogan: “A Serious Candidate for Critical Times”

What he stands for: Increasing national security. Better control over the flow of illegal immigrants. Relaxing the Cuba embargo. Reining in the national debt. Starting a national internship program for state and federal agencies to encourage more public service.

What he has going for him: His father, a former Democratic governor in the 1950s, was considered a champion of civil rights.

Money raised: About $100,000

All in the family: His son, Roy, is leaving his economic development job with the city of Tampa to go work for his dad’s campaign.

Did you know? He rows 6 to 8 miles every other day and on off days swims 1,000 yards., He switched from Democrat to Republican 20 years ago much to his dad’s disappointment.

What he says: When people tell him he’s too old to run for public office he likes to quip, “I’m in better shape than you.”

Will McBride

Age: 33

Home: Windermere outside Orlando

Resume: Lawyer specializing in immigration and personal injury, among other fields, who is a former youth minister and public school teacher.

Campaign slogan: “Washington is Broken. Let’s Fix It Now.”

What he stands for: Reducing the size of government. Ending the practice of earmarking or allowing lawmakers to bring home money for pet projects. A line item veto. Considers himself a deficit hawk. Permanent tax relief.
What he has going for him: With grandmothers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, he is fluent in Spanish. He is often mistaken for failed 2002 gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride (even famed political scientist Larry Sabato thought they were the same person).

Money raised: $303,000 ($68,000 from his own pocket).

All in the family: His father-in-law, Stuart Epperson, owns Salem Communications, which has more than 100 Christian radio stations across the nation, including some in Florida.

Did you know? He travels the state in a 45-foot red, white and blue bus with black leather sofas and a roof that turns into a stage. His family counts presidential adviser Karl Rove as a friend.

What he says: “Time is our biggest enemy. We are running against time.”

Peter Monroe

Age: 62

Home: Safety Harbor

Resume: A lawyer and developer who headed up the Federal Resolution Trust Corp. oversight board, which supervised the liquidation of more than $400 billion from the failing savings and loan industry.

Campaign slogan: “Conservative Action: Florida Deserves Conservative Leadership in the United States Senate.”

What he stands for: No new taxes. A market-based solution for the homeowner insurance crisis. Preserving Social Security. Protecting seniors from credit-card fraud and other scams. Ensuring workers can find affordable housing.

What he has going for him: Spent almost a decade working for the federal government as an official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Money raised: $250,000 ($110,000 from his own pocket).

All in the family: Decades later, he married his high school sweetheart, Renee, last year.

Did you know? He drinks a coffee beverage with six shots of Espresso called a Cowboy. He said he used to lunch with Dick Cheney when he worked in Washington (and before Cheney was vice president).

What he says: “I would have loved the opportunity to go head-to-head with Katherine Harris.”

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

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