Harris Keeps An Eye on 2006

Posted January 16, 2004 at 5:02pm

Ending several months of speculation about her immediate political future, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) announced Friday that she will not run for Senate — at least not this year.

Harris, revered by Republicans and demonized by Democrats for her controversial role as Florida secretary of state during the 2000 presidential recount, would have been the instant GOP frontrunner had she entered the race. Polling had shown her leading all other Republican contenders vying to succeed retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D).

But in the end, Harris said she determined she is not quite ready to give up the House seat to which she was elected in 2002.

“I am just one year into a job I love, and I have so much more that I can accomplish for the people of my district,” Harris said at a news conference in Sarasota.

By opting out of this year’s race, Harris becomes the leading GOP challenger to Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in 2006, and she further stoked speculation about that race on Friday.

“After careful deliberation I am here to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate,” Harris said, speaking to cheering supporters at a local Boys and Girls Club. “But just not yet this year.”

A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said he expected Harris, a top fundraiser for the party, to still play a role in this year’s Senate race.

“We will be reaching out to Congresswoman Harris to see what type of role she would be willing to play to help us in winning the seat,” said NRSC spokesman Dan Allen. “She’s a hot commodity — not only in Florida, but across the country.”

With the possibility of Harris entering the race completely off the table now, there are mixed opinions in GOP circles about whether efforts to clear the Republican field for former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez will intensify.

Martinez officially entered the race earlier this month, at the urging of White House strategists who believe his profile as a Hispanic moderate will help to boost President Bush’s re-election campaign.

Also seeking the GOP nod are former Rep. Bill McCollum, who was defeated by Nelson in 2000; state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd; state Sen. Daniel Webster; former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith; and Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman.

Meanwhile, Democrats, licking their chops at the prospect of Harris and Bush campaigning together in the state, were publicly encouraging a Harris bid.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee used the possibility Harris might run to its full advantage, issuing four fundraising pitches to supporters over the course of her flirtation with the race.

Former Education Commissioner Betty Castor, Rep. Peter Deutsch and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas are seeking the Democratic nomination.

The state Legislature eliminated runoffs in this year’s elections, setting up a winner-take-all primary for both parties on Aug. 31.