Harris tries late to get editors to back her

The Senate candidate says her staff earlier advised her not to seek newspapers' endorsements. Now she's changed her mind.

Published August 15, 2006

In keeping with her unusual Senate campaign, Rep. Katherine Harris has failed to meet with most of the state's major daily newspapers to seek their endorsements.

Editors across Florida say it's unheard of for such a major candidate to decline to visit with an editorial board - an opportunity to make a good impression and explain the candidate's positions.

"I can't ever recall a candidate saying, 'I'm not going to see anybody,' " said Randy Schultz, editorial page editor at the Palm Beach Post. "It just doesn't happen."

Harris, who has been hurt by months of negative publicity, said her staff advised her not to talk to editorial boards. But she said she recently changed her mind and is now calling to try to set up appointments.

"Well, we had some staff that felt that was a bad idea," Harris said Friday. "But I think it's a good idea, so we've called. ... I said, 'I don't know why we're not doing these; I want to do them.' "

With three weeks left until the Sept. 5 primary, it is too late to schedule interviews with some publications. Already several newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times, have begun making their recommendations.

For months, Harris has faced a lack of Republican Party support, disappointing fundraising and sagging poll numbers. Now, federal investigators are digging into her relationship with defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who has pleaded guilty to bribing another lawmaker.

"The polls look horrible," Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday. "Somehow we've managed to take the candidate Democrat Bill Nelson that was considered by national pundits the most vulnerable in the Senate and make him one of the safest. ... Things could change, though."

Harris' campaign has yet to commit to meeting with most major newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Miami Herald. Her staff did not call the Palm Beach Post back despite three attempts by the newspaper to reach her, nor did she fill out its questionnaire.

Herald editorial page editor Joe Oglesby said Harris did not decline to meet with them but has been unable to work out a time. He said her campaign suggested a date and when the newspaper agreed, her staff called back to say she couldn't make it.

"We're trying to work with her," Oglesby said.

Harris' staff told the St. Petersburg Times she couldn't come because she was too busy. Phil Gailey, editor of editorials, said her staff called back late last week to try to schedule an appointment for this week.

Gailey said it was too late. The newspaper's editorial supporting LeRoy Collins, a retired admiral from Tampa, appeared Monday.

"We made every effort to get her," he said."

Harris is scheduled to visit the Florida Times-Union, one of the state's most conservative newspapers. An editor at Jacksonville newspaper said the paper had to keep asking her before she agreed.

Times staff writers Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0576.