Fla. GOPers break with White House over Harris

Several members of Florida’s Republican congressional delegation are breaking with the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) as they throw their support behind Rep. Katherine Harris’s (R-Fla.) Senate bid. Leading Republicans in Washington — including President Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and NRSC Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) — oppose Harris’s candidacy, saying she cannot beat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next year, Republicans sources say.
Several members of Florida’s Republican congressional delegation are breaking with the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) as they throw their support behind Rep. Katherine Harris’s (R-Fla.) Senate bid.

Leading Republicans in Washington — including President Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and NRSC Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) — oppose Harris’s candidacy, saying she cannot beat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next year, Republicans sources say.
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Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) has the Florida delegation’s support.

 

But a growing cadre of Florida Republicans counters that Harris is a loyal partisan with sharp political instincts. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart has endorsed Harris; Reps. Mark Foley and Tom Feeney are vocal supporters.

Other members of the Florida GOP delegation, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, are expected to endorse Harris, in her second term, in the coming months.
“I wasn’t embraced by the White House either,” Foley said, recalling his aborted 2003 Senate bid. “I didn’t get any encouragement. Karl Rove told me what I needed to do, but there was no effort of support. There was no backroom [strategizing].”

White House opposition can be veiled, Foley said. “People plant these little stories attributable to ‘unidentified Republican sources,’ ‘people close to the White House.’ … You don’t get a phone call, ‘Mark, it’s Karl.’ It’s this subtle, parlor game that nobody can put fingerprints on.”
Foley added that “some members are very supportive” of Harris’s candidacy.

Harris’s campaign manager, Jim Dornan, said that the congresswoman has been calling members of the delegation. “We have not gotten any pushback from the delegation,” Dornan said.

Dornan disputed the widespread belief that the administration is against Harris’s Senate bid, conceding only that “there may be individuals who have their own ideas about Katherine’s electability.”

A poll released last week by the GOP firm Strategic Vision highlights questions about Harris’s prospects. In the poll, Harris trounces all the other Republicans considering a Senate bid, capturing 52 percent of the vote, compared to 16 percent for former Gen. Tommy Franks and 7 percent for Florida House Speaker Allan Bense.
Bense has been encouraged to run by officials from the White House and the NRSC and by Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Republicans in Florida and Washington said. A Florida Republican called Bense a good candidate but added that he has little name recognition.

Political observers who have tracked Florida politics say there is a long-standing rift between Jeb Bush and Harris, noting that Bush backed Sandra Mortham over Harris for Florida secretary of state in 1998. Harris defeated Mortham in the GOP primary, 61 percent to 39 percent.

If Bense opts to run, it could lead to a divisive GOP primary, possibly pitting Jeb Bush, the White House and the NRSC against Harris.

Meanwhile, the Strategic Vision poll shows Harris losing in a general election to Nelson, with the Democratic senator winning 48 percent versus Harris’s 40 percent. Franks, for his part, comes within two points of Nelson, winning 43 percent versus Nelson’s 45 percent. Bense wins a smaller share of the vote than either Harris or Franks — 38 percent — but loses by only seven points to Nelson, who wins 45 percent in a mock match-up.

Many GOP officials say Harris’s numbers are more or less frozen, given that everyone knows who she is and has strong feelings about her.
Harris’s allies interpret the poll differently, arguing that it shows Nelson, in his first term, is vulnerable to a strong candidate with a lot of money.

Given that Harris has won some tough races — for the state Senate, secretary of state and Congress — and that she has a national fundraising apparatus to rake in $20 million-plus, her supporters add, she is the Republican best fit to beat Nelson.

Still, there are reservations among some House Republicans from Florida, one Republican aide said.

“I have talked to other members and chiefs of staff who are not as positive or are downright opposed to it,” the aide said of Harris’s Senate bid.

There is concern among some Republicans that Harris was encouraged to run by her husband, businessman Anders Ebbeson, who doesn’t understand much about the blood sport that is modern-day politics, the aide said.

Referring to Ebbeson, the aide said, “I’ve heard that he would much rather see her in the House of Lords than the House of Commons.”

While Republicans may have Nelson in their sights, the Democrat has managed to raise a lot of money. In the second quarter of the year, he brought in nearly $2.2 million; his cash on hand, as of June 30, was just under $5 million. Democrats add that for every dollar Harris raises from enthusiastic Republicans, Nelson will be able to raise at least that much from Democrats still outraged by the 2000 presidential race.

Harris raised more than $400,000 in the second quarter of the year; $13,000 of that came in after her Senate announcement, Republican officials said. Dornan, Harris’s campaign manager, noted that “our Senate fundraising operation has not gone into high gear yet.”