Despite the apparent disapproval of President Bush’s political strategists, Florida Rep. Katherine Harris has decided to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, according to a source.
“She wants it, wants it badly!” a source close to the congresswoman told the Drudge Report today. “She’ll make her decision public within the next week.”
Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.
The object of Democratic furor during the Florida presidential election controversy in 2000, Harris’ ruling as secretary of state helped bring an end to the recount, which Bush won by a 537-vote margin.
Analysts say the congresswoman’s name recognition along with her political and family history in Florida would make her the Republican front-runner, but she also would be a ready target for Democrats seeking to avenge Al Gore’s loss.
Drudge said the source cautioned Harris could still back out in deference to the wishes of the president and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Her advisers, however, dismissed any notion her campaign would harm Republicans this fall, noting Florida Democrats in 2002 were unable to oust Jeb Bush despite employing a strategy that emphasized the recount.
Florida voters will not “punish” Harris, one of the congresswoman’s top strategists told Drudge.
“The Senate campaign will be on the issues, and electing the best person to represent Florida in the Senate,” the strategist said.
Drudge said Texas Sen. Kay Hutchison reportedly has advised her Republican counterpart to “Go for it.”
In November, Harris, the author of “Center of the Storm,”, published by WND Books, said she was “seriously” considering vying for the seat and would consult with her family, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
After her election to the House in 2002, Harris immediately was tapped by Republican leadership to serve as assistant majority whip.
White House strategists, however, have put their weight behind Cuban-born Mel Martinez, who resigned from his U.S. housing secretary post in December and announced Monday his intention to run for the Florida Senate seat.
Nevertheless, a recent Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times poll showed Harris would be the front-runner if she decided to enter the race.
Other Republican Senate hopefuls include Miami lawyer and former Judicial Watch head Larry Klayman, former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith and state Sen. Dan Webster.
The Sentinel said in November Harris had insisted for months she would never challenge Graham because of the long relationship of the senator’s family with her own. A fourth generation Floridian, she is an heiress to the fortune of the late citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr.
Harris told the Orlando paper she was “stunned” by Graham’s November announcement he would not seek another term.
“It was an incredible surprise,” Harris said. “It certainly got my attention. I hadn’t put into my formulation, seriously, that he wouldn’t run.”
Since Graham’s announcement, supporters have been urging Harris to jump into the race.
“It’s been a little overwhelming,” she told the paper then. “We’re getting phone calls from all over the state, ringing off the hook. Everyone is telling me that I’m the only moderate, electable candidate.”
Harris’ record of support for the environment and education will have crossover appeal, analysts say. Her anti-abortion stance, however, contrasts with a potential opponent, Betty Castor of Tampa, a former commissioner of education, state university president and state senator.
Castor’s campaign has distributed a nationwide fund-raising appeal to 73,000 women on Emily’s List, a political action committee supporting female candidates in favor of abortion rights.
Harris voted for the partial-birth abortion ban signed by President Bush.
A commuter each week to Washington, she lives with her husband, Anders Ebbeson, in Sarasota, Fla.
Harris is a former IBM marketing executive and vice president of a commercial real estate firm. She co-chaired President George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in Florida. Prior to her own election as secretary of state, she served in the Florida Senate for four years. A lifelong supporter of the arts, Harris earned degrees from Agnes Scott College and Harvard University. She has a 20-year-old daughter, Louise.
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