Senate race enters last leg
By WES ALLISON and ANITA KUMAR
Published November 6, 2006
After working African-American churches Sunday morning with fellow Democrats in Miami, Bill Nelson raced to Manatee County to campaign for candidates for the U.S. House and chief financial officer, before flying to Orlando to rally Hispanic voters.
During the same hour that Nelson was stumping in Bradenton, his opponent, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, was at a seafood festival in Ruskin, not another Republican candidate in sight. She ducked into the VIP tent, and didn't stay to work the crowd.
Over the last four days, Nelson has blitzed the state from top to bottom, coast to coast.
Harris has stuck close to home, cruising the Interstate 4 corridor and returning often to Polk County, where she grew up and where people know her best.
Nelson updates his public schedule frequently, to ensure the most media coverage he can muster for himself and the candidates he's trying to help.
Harris keeps much of her schedule to herself.
With just a day to go, the race for the U.S. Senate has come down to this: Nelson, Florida's last statewide-elected Democrat, is trying to expand his lead in Republican areas like North Florida and Bradenton while using his stature to help fellow Democrats.
And Harris, the toast of the GOP after helping seal the 2000 election for George W. Bush and now an outcast in her own party, retreating to friendly redoubts, grasping for control of a campaign that long ago spun beyond her control. Yet publicly, at least, she remains unfazed.
"The polls are exaggerated. We know that," Harris said at a recent stop at Fat Boys' Bar-B-Q in St. Cloud, near Orlando. "This is so out of control, so outrageous, so over the top and we just don't have to listen to it, and we will win."
At campaign events, like the University of Central Florida homecoming parade Saturday, Nelson's staff often leaves Florida's senior senator untended. He usually campaigns with just an aide or two, and often with his wife, Grace.
Harris, by contrast, is constantly guarded by a half-dozen aides who shoo away reporters.
Like most major candidates running for office in Florida, Harris visited church services Sunday, an election-week ritual. Unlike most other major candidates running for office in Florida, however, she refused to tell anyone where, an odd strategy for a candidate trailing her opponent by 20 percentage points in most polls.
Nelson has campaigned in the past week in the Republican strongholds of Madison, Duval and Manatee counties, where he preached the power of bipartisanship. He almost never mentions Harris.
As she's done throughout her campaign, Harris gravitated to small, conservative crowds where she's still a star, and where a warm reception is assured for her message that Nelson is a "do nothing liberal" who coddles illegal immigrants.
The two-dozen or so members at a Federated Republican Women of Osceola meeting last week were so enthralled they put down their iced tea and barbecue for her 10-minute speech.
Afterward, they stood in line for her to sign copies of her book, which is about her role as the Florida secretary of state in the 2000 presidential recount.
The same day found Nelson conducting an hour-long question-and-answer session in Delray Beach with the nonpartisan Voters Coalition of Palm Beach County. Harris rarely takes questions.
And while Nelson criss-crossed the state during the past four days, Harris hasn't strayed from Central Florida. All part of a winning strategy, she says.
"The I-4 corridor, we think that's key," she explained. "That's my home turf, and we just want to make sure we bring it home strong."
While Nelson campaigned this weekend in Miami and Orlando with Jim Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, Harris has not appeared with Charlie Crist, the Republican candidate for governor.
And unlike Nelson, she never campaigns for candidates in tough U.S. House races, even in her own Sarasota-area district. That House seat is a toss-up between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. Jennings welcomed Nelson's help at the rally Sunday in Bradenton; Buchanan hasn't been seen with Harris.
This morning, Nelson will campaign for a House candidate in South Florida. And while Crist and other top Republican candidates aren't planning to appear with President Bush when he visits Pensacola today, citing scheduling conflicts, Harris said she rearranged her schedule to go.
"Everything is at stake in this race," she told 70 supporters Saturday night at The Villages, a sprawling retirement community near Leesburg. "It used to be as California goes, so goes the nation. Now they say as Florida goes, so goes the nation."
[Last modified November 6, 2006, 07:49:51]
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