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Collins for Republicans

Leroy Collins Jr., a fifth-generation Floridian and retired Navy admiral, brings seriousness and a record of leadership to the primary contest.

By Times editorial
Published August 14, 2006

Katherine Harris is left with so few options in her U.S. Senate campaign that she has started running against "the liberal media." In truth, she is running from her own Republican Party leaders, her undistinguished public record and Justice Department lawyers who are asking about her relationship with a defense contractor. Her real demon is in the mirror.

The Senate Republican primary that Harris was supposed to own through national celebrity has become a national spectacle, and recent polls suggest most Republican voters want no part of it. A new Times opinion poll, less than four weeks from the Sept. 5 primary, put her support at only 28 percent. Voters want and deserve an alternative, and a reasonable one exists in this race.

While the political headliners shied away from Harris, one of the three men challenging her brings substance, style and a historically significant name to the race.

LeRoy Collins Jr., 71, is a fifth-generation Floridian whose father is remembered as one of the state's most courageous governors. He is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who spent 34 years in the military and retired as a two-star admiral, and he says Congress must do more to secure ports and borders from terrorists. Collins says he will serve only one term, should he be elected, and that "too many of our elected officials care more about their next fundraiser than they do about where their constituents will get their next paycheck."

Collins has been endorsed by two prominent Republican statesmen, former Attorney General Jim Smith and former Comptroller Bob Milligan, and those who might doubt he can mount a credible campaign against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson need only look at the alternatives. Harris, some 35 points down in poll matchups with Nelson, has become a caricature. The other candidates, Orlando lawyer Will McBride and former HUD official Peter Monroe of Pinellas County, are not viable options.

Though Harris plays the role of political victim, her wounds are entirely self-inflicted. Her national claim to fame, after all, is that she presided as Florida secretary of state over a 2000 election recount that was so procedurally flawed the U.S. Supreme Court had to decide it. That ineptitude is reflected in her own campaign, which at last count had lost 25 staffers and was on its third campaign manager. "Katherine is her own worst enemy," nationally prominent fundraiser Anne Dunsmore told the Times. "I have never seen anyone sabotage themselves so much."

More seriously, Harris has continued to offer incomplete and misleading explanations about her relationship with Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to bribery and election fraud in the case of former California congressman Duke Cunningham. Wade admits giving Harris $32,000 in illegal contributions and treating her to lavish Washington dinners, after which Harris sought a $10-million contract for his company.

Harris notes that prosecutors, in a document that refers to her as "Representative B," say she didn't know the contributions were illegal. But the investigation clearly is continuing, with more of her former staff being questioned, and she still won't explain why she hid the existence of a subpoena.

Some members of Congress who have found themselves in similarly compromised positions have dropped out of their re-election campaigns. But Harris claims spiritual inspiration for her Senate run, which renders useless the advice of earthlings.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jeb Bush was recruiting respected state House Speaker Allan Bense to challenge Harris in this primary, but Bense declined. Now Republicans voters don't have the luxury of saying "what if." The choice before them is between a terribly flawed incumbent member of Congress and a man with a distinguished military and business career. Collins may not have political experience, but he has intellectual heft and a record of leadership.

The Collins campaign slogan, "a serious candidate for critical times," sufficiently captures the contrast in this race. The Times recommends LeRoy Collins Jr. as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

[Last modified August 14, 2006, 05:39:21]

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