tampabay.com

Touted guests missing at Harris rally

By ANITA KUMAR
Published August 18, 2006


ORLANDO - U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris came to Sen. Bill Nelson's hometown Thursday to try to prove she could unseat him in the fall, but the help she hoped for didn't come.

It was expected to be one of Harris' biggest events leading up to the Republican Senate primary next month, with a host of prominent public officials standing by her side.

But no elected official showed up at Orlando Executive Airport for Harris' fly-in - just 30 to 40 people, in a hangar that could hold hundreds.

Those who did attend were passionate in their support for the two-term congresswoman from Longboat Key who faces three opponents in the Sept. 5 primary. They wore Harris T-shirts and stickers, waved flags, greeted her with hugs and circled her as she told them about her priorities, accused Nelson of being liberal and criticized liberal media.

"She is awesome," beamed Linda Grier, president of Greater Osceola Federated Republican Women.

In press releases and in e-mail to supporters across the state, Harris' beleaguered campaign touted the event as a rally hosted by U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and a slew of members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

Martinez's office said the senator was in Orlando but unable to come at the last minute because of meetings. Jennings' public schedule never showed she was expected to attend. U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney's office said he had an appointment with his dermatologist.

"They confirmed that they would be here," Harris told reporters later. "I don't know what the problem is."

She said she thought some people didn't come because a tree fell on the original hangar location and they didn't know where the rally was moved to.

In a statement, Jennings said she still supported Harris.

"I've worked with Katherine since she began her political career and no one will work harder for Florida than Katherine Harris," Jennings wrote.

Also included in the announcement touting the rally was state Sen. Daniel Webster. But Webster encouraged Harris opponent Will McBride to enter the race and still supports him "without reservation," said Jack St. Martin, McBride's campaign manager. "It's just sad Katherine Harris has gotten to the point where she makes up this kind of information."

Besides McBride, an Orlando attorney, Harris is running in the primary against retired Adm. LeRoy Collins of Tampa and Safety Harbor developer Peter Monroe. The winner faces Nelson in November.

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