The ultimate candidate?

Controversial former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris is running for Senate.

By Page Rockwell
Published June 8, 2005 12:00AM (EDT)

Florida's most famous poster person for disputed elections, former Secretary of State and current Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, announced on Tuesday that she plans to challenge Democrat Bill Nelson for his Senate seat in 2006. Since her central role in the state's hanging-chad debacle in 2000, including subsequent reports that she hired a heavily Republican private firm to help purge Democrats from the state's voter rolls, many on the left have seen Harris as a symbol of the U.S.'s urgent need for election reform. One might think that would have put a bit of a dent in Harris' political credibility, but the 2000 scandal seems instead to have cemented her reputation with Republicans. The Associated Press on Tuesday referred to her as "a top fundraiser," "a popular figure among Republicans" and "the darling of GOP activists."

Despite her popularity among Republicans, though, the GOP hasn't been completely confident in Harris as a candidate. According to the AP, Republican higher-ups discouraged Harris from running for former Florida Sen. Bob Graham's seat in 2004, worrying that her presence on the ballot could be so controversial as to cost President Bush the state of Florida: "Republicans feared Harris' candidacy in 2004 produce would produce a big turnout among angry Democrats and hurt President Bush's chances of carrying Florida and its crucial 27 electoral votes. The White House instead encouraged Mel Martinez to get in the race."

But with Bush safely ensconced in the White House again, the GOP seems to be giving Harris the green light now. It's too soon to say what Harris's chances are, but we have to think she'll at least be a contender -- given that she knows a thing or two about how to deliver an election to a Republican candidate.

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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