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Note to Harris: Go for bold, but avoid wacky

Published October 24, 2006


DAVIE - Let's be honest here. Most of us tuned into Monday's live Bill Nelson-Katherine Harris debate for one reason:

You never know when Harris might do something utterly weird.

Much of the rap is unfair, but plenty of it she has brought on herself. Like the time on Fox when she became all flirty with Sean Hannity. Or that other time on Fox when she promised with wild-eyed fervor to put her "widow's mite" - $10-million - into her campaign, then didn't. Or most recently when she seemed to suggest that in electing non-Christians to office "you are going to legislate sin."

After repeated campaign staff resignations and snubs from top Republicans, Florida's Senate race stopped being a contest months ago. Incumbent Democrat Nelson leads by more than 20 percentage points in most polls, but the race keeps people's interest much as auto wrecks draw the gaze of passing highway drivers.

But viewers looking for political wackiness Monday night, didn't see it. Harris did just fine. Some viewers might have seen her constant walking out from behind the lectern as a tad forced, but the Longboat Key Republican came off confident and polished.

Unfortunately for her, she needed much more than "just fine" to change the dynamic of the race.

If anything, the surprise Monday night was that she did not go after Nelson more aggressively. That and the fact that she never once called Nelson liberal, something that even surprised Harris.

"I am so bummed," she said after the debate, laughing. "How could I miss calling him a liberal?"

She tried to knock him for helping create the insurance crisis when he was insurance commissioner, for failing to embrace the "exciting opportunities" for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and for blocking the nomination of John Bolton to be America's U.N. ambassador. Nelson emerged largely unscathed.

Harris referred to Nelson as "senator" and that's just how he appeared, as a senator. In his slow, deep drawl he stuck close to his cautious persona as a politician uninterested in partisanship.

"You don't worry about working with Democrats and Republicans," he intoned. "You just try to do what's right for the people."

The next debate is Nov. 1. Harris, with grim polls and no TV ads yet, better hope to accomplish much more than avoid providing fodder for late night comedians.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or

[Last modified October 24, 2006, 05:27:23]

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