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GOP has a party without Harris

A “Unity Tour” of statewide candidates who won primaries Tuesday doesn’t include the one who captured the U.S. Senate nomination.

Published September 7, 2006

HIALEAH — Everyone tried to make nice afterward, but somehow Katherine Harris didn’t get invited to the party.

Just two days after her win in the U.S. Senate primary, the congresswoman was noticeably missing as the Florida Republican Party took a victory lap around the state Thursday with Gov. Jeb Bush, its four other statewide candidates and one former opponent.

With Bush on this “Unity Tour” were gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist and the man he beat in the primary, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher; Senate President Tom Lee of Valrico, the party’s new nominee for chief financial officer; former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood, the attorney general nominee; and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who is seeking re-election.

The governor tried to stay on message. “This is the time for parties who want to win to lay out our hopeful positive agenda about the future of our state. … It’s also a time we unite behind our candidates,” he said.

But the unity team was asked the predictable question at nearly every stop: Where is Katherine Harris?

Only once Thursday, in Jacksonville, did Bush or any other Republican mention the Harris campaign from the dais.
It was also the only event where Harris’ supporters were present holding signs.

Just two days ago, when the party sent out congratulatory news releases on Crist’s and Lee’s primary victories, it didn’t note the Harris win, increasing speculation that the party’s ambivalence over Harris’ candidacy in the primary was spilling over into the general election.

The Democratic Party jumped on the omission.

“GOP Already Running Away from Top of Ticket,” read the headline on a press release.

In Hialeah, where the candidates and Bush had to push their way through a throng of more than 150 supporters to reach a small stage in the dining room of a Chicos Cuban restaurant, Crist told reporters he wished Harris were

there and didn’t know why she wasn’t.

Later, in Orlando, Bush told reporters, “I don’t know why she’s not here; these are all state candidates not federal candidates. I wish Katherine well. … She has the support of the Republican Party, and she has my support.”

Harris’ campaign also denied anything was amiss, saying the candidate didn’t feel slighted because only individuals vying for state jobs were included.

“I wouldn’t read anything into this,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Marks, who said the campaign is discussing other future events with the party. Already scheduled for today: A joint press conference between Harris and her runnerup, Will McBride.

Meanwhile, the message Bush and the others pushed Thursday in Hialeah, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville was a simple one: Charlie Crist is now the chosen heir — particularly with U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa as the Democratic alternative.

Making far stronger attacks than Crist has made himself, Bush called Davis an ineffective politician, asking a boisterous Orlando audience of about 200 to “name one bill associated with Davis; name one law.”

Later, after talking to about 75 supporters in a Jacksonville airplane hangar, Bush sharpened his attack with Crist looking on: “Watching Jim Davis in action is very troubling. … When he’s advocating ideas he’s basically saying,

'I’m going to undo what’s been done.’ That’s a pessimistic view of our state.”

Said Crist, “I agree with him (Bush).”

Davis campaign spokeswoman Danae Jones objected to Bush’s assessment, saying Davis has spent 17 years in Tallahassee and Washington representing working families: “He has been effective in bringing together

Republicans and Democrats to fight offshore oil drilling, certainly more than the governor has been. When it comes to protecting nursing home residents, for instance, Jim has also been effective.”

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.

[Last modified September 7, 2006, 21:56:53]

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