Theres something about Harris

Here’s breaking news out of Florida:

“Jesus was teaching at the temple in Tallahassee when leaders brought before him a woman, Katherine Harris, caught in the act of campaigning. The leaders asked whether a politicking woman should not be cast out of the Senate race and stoned. Jesus said simply, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.’

Here’s breaking news out of Florida:

“Jesus was teaching at the temple in Tallahassee when leaders brought before him a woman, Katherine Harris, caught in the act of campaigning. The leaders asked whether a politicking woman should not be cast out of the Senate race and stoned. Jesus said simply, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.’

“Suddenly a torrent of rocks pummeled Mrs. Harris, leaving the congresswoman bloodied and her campaign on life support.”

It’s an old, old story. But there’s a twist in its latest incantation. This century’s Pharisees are meaner and tougher.

There’s something about Katherine Harris that makes otherwise civilized men and women act like savages as they try to bully her out of the race. They’re no longer satisfied hurling stones; all-out verbal muggings are now daily occurrences.

Consider the latest zinger by my old friend John M. “Mac” Stipanovich, for two decades the reigning champ of “giving good quote” in Tallahassee: Katherine Harris “moves in ways so mysterious that the designs of the Creator seem transparent by comparison.”

Five years ago, Stipanovich was Harris’s most trusted political adviser. As recent as last October, Mac the Knife still spoke defensively about Harris as a warning to detractors: “I think the results [of fundraising] are probably disappointing for her. I don’t think that there are any profound conclusions you can draw from it. Time will cure much of that, when you get into the campaign and everybody’s juices start flowing. ... Her performance, from the standpoint of a Republican primary, is an even clearer warning to anyone to stay out of the race.”

Well, everyone’s juices are now flowing and the mob that’s turned against Harris seemingly won’t be satiated until she gives up on the Senate race. Watching this take place, it seems clear that gender is a factor in some of the attacks on Harris. The St. Petersburg Times even quoted a Republican consultant saying, “She’s like the sorority girl in college who’s always got the boyfriend drama.” If that’s not sexist, I’m not sure what would be.

To be sure, gender is not Harris’s sole problem. Sluggish fundraising, staff turnover and now a brewing congressional scandal have kept her campaign off balance. As Gov. Jeb Bush (R) himself recently noted, Harris has never gotten around to making the case against Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson. But in recent months Katherine Harris had some good days, including one when Gov. Bush endorsed her, discouraging other Republican candidacies. But Harris has not convinced enough others.

Candidate Harris has made serious mistakes, and she’s in a big-time jam. But there are equally ominous news stories and whisper campaigns about the two front-running GOP candidates for governor. Why is it that Tallahassee’s insiders aren’t clamoring for them to resign as “threats to the ticket,” as they do with Harris? Perhaps it’s because the gubernatorial candidates are members of the boys club.

Florida politics have not been particularly female-friendly. There have been no female governors and only one female senator, Paula Hawkins. In 1997, Hawkins told history professor Julian Pleasants she experienced discrimination as a female senator. Her tenure lasted just one term, and cruel jokes linking her to Harris are making the rounds.

If any male or female Republican feels they would be better than Harris, now is the time to step forward. Otherwise, her critics should stand down. If Harris is fortunate enough to survive her present crisis, I’d suggest that GOP leaders read speeches Ronald Reagan made in 1985 and 1986, strongly urging Floridians to reelect Hawkins. She didn’t win reelection, but at least she knew her party’s best communicator was squarely in her corner. That’s what Katherine Harris needs now.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.