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Manager Signed for Harris’ Bid

As she continues to battle the efforts of some national Republican leaders to recruit another candidate, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) has tapped veteran GOP consultant and operative Jim Dornan to manage her Senate campaign.

Dornan is taking a leave of absence from his job as vice president of Russ Reid Co., a Washington, D.C.-based public strategies firm, and will assume his new position with Harris’ campaign Aug. 1.

Harris had previously announced that longtime Republican strategist Ed Rollins, the late President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign chairman, would serve as her top consultant for the race. Rollins also worked for former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

In an interview Friday, Dornan said the genesis of his new gig was somewhat coincidental. He said he ran into Rollins in the men’s room at a Washington Nationals game recently, and they discussed the possibility of Dornan coming on board.

“The fact that Ed Rollins is involved in it absolutely was the clincher for me,” Dornan said. “The opportunity to work with Ed Rollins is an opportunity I may never get again.”

But while Harris continues to staff up for next year’s election, some top Republicans in Florida and Washington, D.C., are actively recruiting Florida state House Speaker Allan Bense to run against the Congresswoman in the GOP primary.

They believe that Harris can’t beat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in a general election because of the negative feelings voters still harbor due to her high-profile role as Florida secretary of state in the 2000 election. Those Republicans also fear that having Harris on the November ballot would dramatically drive up Democratic turnout, thus jeopardizing other Republicans on the ballot.

Recent polls have shown Nelson leading Harris by double-digit margins.

Bense is expected to make a decision about the race soon, after meeting late last month with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) in Washington.

NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said Friday that Nelson is “very vulnerable” next year and did little to hide the fact that the committee is searching for other GOP candidates besides Harris.

“We’re looking to have a very competitive candidate to defeat him,” Nick said.

He also said the NRSC has made clear that it will not rule out the possibility of taking sides in the primary.

We’ve “got to do what’s best to have the best candidate at the end of the day,” Nick said.

Dornan praised Harris and shrugged off the notion that her campaign could ultimately be forced to battle two opponents: Democrats and the GOP establishment.

“She deserves it. She deserves a shot at the Senate race,” he said. “She’s been a loyal Republican foot soldier for a long time. No one’s looking for a fight with the White House. She’s going to win the primary and she’s going to win in November.”

Dornan has experience in Florida, working in 1990 as campaign manager for then-Rep. Craig James (R-Fla.), a frequently targeted incumbent in a swing coastal district that ran from just south of Jacksonville to the Daytona Beach area.

His other notable campaign experience includes serving as campaign manager for former Rep. J.C. Watts’ (R-Okla.) first Congressional victory in 1994.

In 1998, Dornan managed the Maryland gubernatorial campaign of former state House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey (R), who lost in a rematch with incumbent Gov. Parris Glendening (D).

Two years later he was manager for then-Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), who was expected to face a competitive contest because he was breaking a term-limits pledge. He also served a stint as chief of staff to then-Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was elected to the Senate last year.

Last cycle he was a consultant to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who faced his first vigorous primary challenge, and for Washington state Sen. Larry Sheahan (R), who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination to succeed Nethercutt in Washington’s 5th district.

Dornan, 45, said that Harris’ campaign will probably be his last turn as a manager.

“Politics is a younger man’s game — political campaigns are,” he said. “I’d really like to go out with a big win, and this is going to be a big win.”

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