Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, a central figure in the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election recount controversy, has decided not to run for Florida’s open Senate seat amid apparent concerns at the White House.

Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.

The first-term congresswoman announced today she will instead run for re-election to the House and work to ensure a Republican fills the seat left open with the retirement of Democratic Sen. Bob Graham.

She told supporters in her hometown Sarasota this afternoon, however, the Senate is in her future plans.

“So after careful deliberation I am here to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate,” Harris said. “But just not yet this year.”

Republican sources say Harris likely will run for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat in 2006.

Some GOP strategists feared a Harris candidacy this year would hurt the president’s re-election chances in the key swing state in November by stirring up animosities and reviving accusations over Al Gore’s 537-vote loss.

The candidacy of former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez – apparently at the White House’s prodding – added to the controversy surrounding Harris’ possible Senate run.

The object of Democratic furor, Harris’ ruling as secretary of state in the 2000 election helped bring an end to the recount, told in “Center of the Storm,”, published by WorldNetDaily’s publishing division, WND Books.

Harris’ advisers, however, dismissed any notion she would have harmed Republicans this fall, noting Florida Democrats in 2002 were unable to oust Jeb Bush despite employing a strategy that emphasized the recount.

The congresswoman’s internal polling showed she would be five percentage points ahead of Democratic front-runner Betty Castor.

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.

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