Harris's ailing campaign loses manager, faces money woes

Rep. Katherine Harris’s Senate campaign manager, Jim Dornan, is leaving the campaign amid fears that Harris has failed to raise enough money or generate enough enthusiasm among leading Republicans to compete effectively against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next year.

The Harris campaign issued a statement yesterday saying Dornan would now be a “senior adviser” and would be replaced, for now, by Jamie Miller, the deputy campaign manager.

Dornan, in an interview with The Hill, described his new role as “informal,” adding that he has been approached by several Senate campaigns and Washington firms about future jobs.

Asked why he was leaving, Dornan said: “My role was to sort of set things up on the campaign, make sure we got the trains running on time, and I just didn’t see myself as a day-to-day manager.”

Dornan’s departure puts pressure on Harris, whose candidacy is disliked by the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), to improve her fundraising, several Republicans said.

“I think the fourth quarter is going to be key for her,” Dornan said. Other Republicans described the final fundraising period of the year as “do or die” for Harris, saying a lackluster showing could doom the campaign months before the September primary.

The shakeup also could pique the interest of other would-be senators — including Florida House Speaker Allan Bense (R) — who earlier decided to sit out the race, perhaps viewing Harris then as unbeatable in a GOP primary. Towson Fraser, Bense’s communications director, said yesterday that his boss remains focused on being Speaker and that he wouldn’t consider other options until after the legislative session ends, in May.

Harris, in her second term, raised a little more than $500,000 in the third quarter; she has nearly $470,000 in the bank.

Nelson, in the same period, garnered more than $1.9 million, bringing his cash on hand to $6.5 million.

Compounding Harris’s troubles was a poll released yesterday by Quinnipiac University showing Nelson ahead of Harris by 24 points, with the Democrat capturing 55 percent of the vote versus the Republican’s 31 percent.

Also, Dornan said, national Republican leaders — he did not name anyone — continue to pose problems for Harris, “sending signals” that make it hard for Harris to raise money and consolidate the Republican base in Florida.

A Florida Republican source added that if Harris is unable to get leading Florida fundraisers on board — people who take their cues from President Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) — no amount of fundraising outside the state would be able to compensate.

The Harris campaign has posed GOP officials with a quandary from day one: While the congresswoman remains popular with the conservative base partly because of her role, as Florida secretary of state, during the protracted 2000 presidential election dispute, she has consistently trailed Nelson by wide margins in opinion polls.

“She is the epitome of a strong partisan, and that’s always an issue with her,” said Nelson’s pollster, Dave Beattie. “She’s always able to solidify and excite a Republican base.”

Republicans fear that Harris will galvanize contributors to Nelson among Democrats still smarting from Vice President Al Gore’s defeat. What’s more, Republicans believe that Nelson, in his first term, is particularly vulnerable in a state that, they say, has grown more Republican in recent years, noting that the president’s narrow win in 2000 was followed by a clear victory in 2004.

Beattie agreed that Democrats running statewide in Florida can expect a tough battle. Any number of factors outside Nelson’s and Harris’s control could shape the race, he said, including the Iraq war, the economy and terrorist attacks. Democrats must run on their own agenda and not simply bash Republicans’ record if they hope to win in 2006, he added.

Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican consultant advising the Harris campaign, declined to comment on Dornan’s departure.

Many in the GOP, including some of Harris’s House colleagues from Florida, believe the congresswoman is underestimated, as she was, they contend, when she beat then-incumbent Sandra Mortham in the 1998 Republican primary for secretary of state.

“There’s always changes in any campaign setting,” said Dana Gartzke, chief of staff for Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.). Referring to the staff change at the Harris campaign, Gartzke said: “Right now, it’s not a big deal to our office that this is happening.”

A Florida Republican source added that there are few viable GOP alternatives to Harris besides Bense. Rep. Mark Foley has flirted with a Senate run but is unlikely to jump in, the source said. First-term Rep. Connie Mack, too, has statewide ambitions, the Republican said, but has been voting with the Democrats too much to win a GOP primary, citing Mack’s opposition to a measure that would have opened up Florida’s coast to oil drilling, among other issues.