Poll: Harris leads GOP field, but trails Nelson
By ANITA KUMAR
Published August 12, 2006
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris holds a commanding lead over three largely unknown opponents in the race to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate this fall, according to a St. Petersburg Times poll.
But for a politician with high statewide name recognition, drawing the support of just 28 percent of likely Republican voters is not especially good news. Harris is trailed by Orlando lawyer Will McBride with 11 percent, retired Adm. LeRoy Collins of Tampa with 9 percent and Safety Harbor developer Peter Monroe with 5 percent.
But almost half of those polled - 47 percent - were still undecided less than four weeks before the Sept. 5 primary, according to the Times poll.
"I hadn't had any reason to dislike Harris," said Mary Stanton, 85, a Republican from Palm Beach County. "She seems to be knowledgeable of the issues and strong in her positions."
Pollsters Tom Eldon and Kellyanne Conway, whose companies worked together to conduct the poll, said that even with her relatively weak showing, it is unlikely Harris will lose in the primary. She maintains significant advantages in having strong name recognition, millions of dollars in campaign money to spend and grass roots support among a core of loyal Republicans.
But in a general election race between Harris and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, the two-time congresswoman from Longboat Key does poorly.
An overwhelmingly 60 percent of those polled said they would vote for Nelson while only 25 percent would vote for Harris. Fifteen percent said they were undecided.
"I'm appalled that (she) does not withdraw," said Judy Reinach, 65, a Republican from Key Biscayne. "I don't think her credentials warrant her being in the U.S. Senate. I don't know anybody for her."
Since entering the race last year, Harris has suffered from a lack of support from her own party. Prominent Republicans such as Gov. Jeb Bush courted others to run against her.
"The Republican Party campaign against Harris is working against her to a degree," pollster Conway said.
Voters who participated in the poll also mentioned in followup interviews that they had concerns about an on-going federal investigation into her relationship with former defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to bribing another lawmaker.
"Harris is out of the question as far as I'm concerned," said George Williams, 59, of Greenacres, who said he is not affiliated with either party. "I don't think she's a righteous person."
The St. Petersburg Times telephone survey of 800 registered voters was conducted Aug. 6-9 by the firms Schroth, Eldon & Associates, whose clients are primarily Democrats, and the Polling Co., which works with Republicans. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent. For questions of Republican primary voters it's 5.6 percent.
About 35 percent of those polled said Nelson was doing a good job as Florida's senior senator, while 31 percent said he was doing a fair job.
"I think he's half-way honest ... and that means something," said Mike Riley, a 51-year-old Democrat from Naples. "It's like finding a Realtor or used car salesman; find someone you can trust and stick with him. Nelson's been around a long time, I think he's done a fairly decent job."
Conway said the numbers show that Nelson doesn't have strong approval ratings and could be unseated if he faced a strong opponent.
"People just can't develop any passion about Bill Nelson," Eldon said. "He's never had impressive job performance numbers."
Times staff writers Joni James and Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at email@example.com or 202-463-0576.