What George W. Bush owes Katherine Harris

She took the lead in handing him the 2000 election. Should he be backing her in a new Senate run?

By Tim Grieve
Published June 30, 2005 11:59AM (EDT)

From the Understatement of the Year Department, here's an unnamed supporter of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris complaining about the lack of support she's getting from the White House in her run for the U.S. Senate: "It's unimaginable that the White House folks and the National Republican Senatorial Committee would be so disloyal to Katherine Harris, especially after all she has done for the Bush family and the Republican Party."

Actually, the guy has a point, and not just because Harris took the lead in handing Florida -- and, with it, the presidency -- to George W. Bush in the contested election of 2000. According to the Hill News, Harris' people say she decided not to make a run for the Senate in 2004 at the request of national Republican leaders who feared that she might hurt the president's chances in Florida. Now that Bush is safely back in the White House, it ought to be Harris' turn to do what she wants, her backers say.

That's not how Washington Republicans see it, apparently: Although Harris has already announced her candidacy, they're encouraging Florida's Republican House speaker, Allan Bense, to make a run for the Republican nomination himself. Bense went to Washington this week to talk it over with Karl Rove and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and to host a lunch for more than 100 House staffers, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

Rove and the Republican leadership aren't worried about Bush's re-election chances this time, but they've got to be concerned about Harris' chances against the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson is vulnerable, but Harris trails him by 12 points in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. "Sen. Nelson looks vulnerable in his re-election bid, except when you match him against U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris or other possible Republican challengers," says Clay Richards, assistance director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Richards notes that even 36 percent of the Democrats polled said they'd like to Nelson replaced, but that "those wavering Democrats come scurrying home. . . when Harris is Nelson's opponent."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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