Harris's fundraising lagging in Senate race

Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through the Gulf Coast early last month, is taking a toll on Rep. Katherine Harris’s (R-Fla.) fundraising effort in her bid for a Senate seat, Campaign Manager Jim Dornan said yesterday.

Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through the Gulf Coast early last month, is taking a toll on Rep. Katherine Harris’s (R-Fla.) fundraising effort in her bid for a Senate seat, Campaign Manager Jim Dornan said yesterday.

Dornan stressed that the campaign’s fundraising effort is still “going well” but acknowledged that “Katrina did deal us a couple setbacks.”

He added that the campaign has opened its headquarters in Tampa and has hired more staff, including Deputy Campaign Director Jamie Miller, formerly of the Florida Republican Party.

A fundraising letter e-mailed last week from Harris to her supporters expressed the difficult balance the campaign faced in respecting potential voters’ likely focus on hurricane victims while continuing to solicit donations for the campaign.

“Out of respect and understanding of the Gulf Coast victims, we suspended fundraising for a few weeks,” Harris wrote in the e-mail. “My campaign is realistic about our filing report, but your last-minute help would be extremely appreciated.”

Echoing Dornan, campaign consultant Ed Rollins said that “a lot of things have happened in the outside environment” but voiced confidence in what he called Harris’s “first-rate team.”

White House and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) officials have spent the past several months trying to dissuade Harris from entering the race. Asked if these officials have warmed to a Harris candidacy, Rollins said simply: “She will be the nominee.”

A Florida Republican source close to the campaign offered a bleaker picture, saying Harris’s third-quarter fundraising numbers “aren’t going to look very good, and that’s going to be a pretty big blow.”

The same source said Harris had raised $500,000 during the period from July 1 to Sept. 30, leaving her with $250,000 in the bank.

He also noted that her fundraising kickoff, which took place Sept. 19 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tampa, reeled in only $30,000.

“If she can’t raise money, she can’t compete,” the Florida Republican said.

Referring to next year’s GOP primary, he added: “In a race like this, we can’t afford to wait for an August coronation and then try to rehabilitate her in that tight window of time.”

Dornan disputed those figures but said he couldn’t provide the campaign’s numbers because the staff is still calculating Harris’s intake for her third-quarter Federal Election Commission report, due Oct. 15.

A Republican aide on Capitol Hill said that Harris’s fundraising should be robust in the early stages of the campaign given “all the low-hanging fruit.”

The aide said that many candidates say the hurricane hurt their fundraising.

But that has not been the case for everyone. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) is expected to have raised more money in the third quarter than he did in the previous one. Foley has long hinted he may enter the Senate race, but his staff had little to say about it yesterday.

“Katherine Harris is the only candidate in the race right now,” said Foley spokesman Jason Kello.

Dornan also voiced confidence in Harris’s poll numbers, which show the second-term congresswoman hovering in the high 30s and low 40s and put Nelson at just below the 50-percent mark.

Sen. Bill Nelson’s (R-Fla.) pollster, David Beattie, was unavailable for comment.

The senator finished the second quarter of the year with nearly $5 million in the bank, having raised nearly $2.2 million during the three-month period.

Republican Party officials remain uneasy with Harris, pointing out that while she easily wins the GOP primary in polls, she’s at least eight or nine points behind Nelson. Other potential contenders, such as Florida Speaker of the House Alan Bense (R), have less name recognition and would have a tough time winning the primary with Harris in the race. Bense, however, ultimately may fare better against Nelson, independent and Republican surveys show.

If Harris’s fundraising figures turn out to be lackluster, the Florida Republican source said, pressure could grow for Bense to reconsider his earlier decision not to seek the Senate seat.

Nelson is one of the GOP’s top Senate targets. The senator won his first term in 2000 with just 51 percent of the vote, while President Bush easily won Florida in last year’s presidential race.

Dornan said party officials have not given any indication that they oppose a Harris candidacy, adding that Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have praised Harris in the press.