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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
By WES ALLISON and ANITA KUMAR
Published October 25, 2006
WASHINGTON - A mild-mannered, first-term Democrat from a Southern state that's been trending Republican, he was once seen as vulnerable, and is now considered almost invincible.
She was once the darling of her party, since scorned, and now a magnet for controversy.
In Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Katherine Harris, the candidates for the U.S. Senate offer sharply different choices.
Nelson is one of the most moderate Democrats in the Senate who focuses on issues dear to Florida, including oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, affordable prescription drugs and, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, protecting Florida's military installations.
And with 34 years in Florida politics behind him, he has built up a formidable network of grass roots volunteers and support from key Democratic constituencies, such as labor unions, as well as GOP-leaning business and law enforcement groups.
Harris styles herself a Christian conservative, an opponent of abortion rights who votes almost in lockstep with President Bush's agenda.
Best known for her role in the 2000 presidential election, Harris, a two-term congresswoman from the Sarasota area, has spent most of her time in Washington working for her district.
She passed a relatively uncontroversial bill, the American Dream Downpayment Act, which authorizes $200-million each year from 2004 to 2007 to give qualified potential homeowners down payments. She also helped fight for tougher penalties for sex offenders after Carlie Brucia of Sarasota was murdered.
Harris beat three political newcomers in the Republican primary in September. But she has endured months of problems, including weak party support, staff resignations, dismal fundraising and a federal investigation into her relationship with a defense contractor who has been convicted of bribing another member of Congress.
At campaign events, Harris stresses that she is not one of the "Beltway boys" and calls herself a gutsy fighter, downplaying her low numbers in the polls against Nelson.
"Don't pay attention to the liberals when they are trying to discourage us," she says. "Throughout my career I have been a gutsy fighter willing to ... fight for Florida."
Harris talks about keeping troops in Iraq as long as necessary, limiting immigration reform to enforcement of the U.S.-Mexico border and instituting tax reform. She criticizes Nelson as a do-nothing senator who is not in step with traditional values on marriage and abortion.
Nelson, by contrast, hardly acknowledges Harris. With more than $12-million in the bank and a double-digit lead in the polls, he is airing TV ads heralding himself as a hard-working public servant. Nelson says he opposes gay marriage but believes the issue should be settled by the states.
On immigration, Nelson supports comprehensive reform that both tightens the border and provides a route for some of the 12-million illegal immigrants to become legal. He says America cannot abandon Iraq until its government is stable, and that more congressional oversight and international participation would help.
Katherine Harris, 49, of Longboat Key is the granddaughter of Florida citrus and cattle magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr. She received a bachelor's degree in history from Agnes Scott College and a master's degree in international trade from Harvard. She was a marketing executive with IBM and served as vice president of a commercial real estate company. She entered politics in 1994, serving four years as a state senator. She was elected Florida secretary of state, a job she held for four years, and received national attention during the 2000 presidential recount. She is serving her second term as a U.S. representative. She is married and has an adult stepdaughter. Assets: Rent, investments. Liabilities: None listed. Source of income: Congressional salary. Web site: www.electharris.org.
Bill Nelson, 64, of Orlando is a fifth-generation Floridian who grew up in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center. He received a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He was a captain in the Army from 1968 to 1970, then served two years in the Army Reserve. He entered politics in 1972, winning a Florida House seat. He served in the state House until 1978, then won election to the U.S. House. In 1986, he became the first House member to orbit Earth on the space shuttle. He left Congress in 1991 to run for governor, losing the primary. He served as state treasurer and insurance commissioner from 1995 to 2001, when he won his Senate seat. Assets: Investments, land. Liabilities: None reported. Source of income: Congressional salary. Web site: www.nelsonforsenate.com.
The winner will be one of two Floridians representing the state in the Senate. Senators set domestic and international policy and pass legislation. They confirm the president's nominees to the Supreme Court and other federal courts, as well as key administration posts. Senators also have the power to stall legislation or block presidential appointees. The job pays $165,200 per year.