Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Much riding on Harris' next move

Posted on Tue, Mar. 14, 2006
by Stephen Majors

Political Notebook

TALLAHASSEE - U. S. Rep. Katherine Harris' "major announcement" this week concerning her candidacy for the U.S. Senate has everyone in the 13th Congressional District watching and waiting - again.

Last June, potential Republican candidates like Vern Buchanan and Tramm Hudson got the green light to run for Harris' seat once Harris said she was going to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson this fall. And for the first time in four years, possible Democratic candidates like Jan Schneider and Christine Jennings saw a chance at entering a race with no strong Republican incumbent.

But now with speculation over Harris raging about her connections to a defense contractor that pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme - the district is back in a holding pattern. Even before the revelations about MZM Inc., Harris had been struggling to raise money, had received initial opposition from top Republican officials and had faced double-digit deficits in numerous polls.

Current speculation in political circles is that Harris will do one of two things with her announcement: She will announce that she is dropping out of the Senate race, or she will proclaim that she's going full-steam ahead and injecting her own money into the campaign.

If it's the former, Harris may not find other Republicans willing to step aside in the congressional district, as they have in previous elections.

Tommy Hopper, Vern Buchanan's campaign manager, said that if Harris had decided to run again for Congress two or three weeks ago, he would have advised Buchanan to pull out.

"I'm not sure that's true anymore," Hopper said. "The last week or two has been really bizarre."

With Harris'image problems and fundraising struggles, there's a considerable chance that Buchanan, who has raised more than $1 million, would stay in the race, Hopper said.

If Harris runs again for the congressional seat and Buchanan stays in, Hopper said he would tell his candidate to be ready for a rough, negative contest.

"She will be relentless," Hopper said.

Regardless of whether Harris runs for the Senate or runs for the House, ethics will be a big campaign issue in the district.

Hopper said there is no question that ethics will be one of the top three or four issues. Buchanan and Hudson have talked in most of their campaign appearances about ethics problems in Washington in the fallout of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Jennings last week proposed ethics reform legislation calling for increased disclosure of the contacts between lobbyists and legislators, and for waiting periods before former lawmakers can enter the lobbying business and influence their former colleagues.

Jennings campaign has ramped up the ethics talk in light of Harris' troubles, saying that Harris has embarrassed the district. Harris received $50,000 from MZM for her 2004 election, and later donated the money to charity once she found out the contributions were illegal. But MZM has since become enveloped in the bigger scandal of bribing Rep. Randy Cunningham of California, and has had further ties with Harris.

"The Republicans aren't moving on any change," said Sean Bertram, Jennings' campaign manager.

"Locally we're talking about a receiver of illegal campaign contributions," Bertram said. "Locally ethics is an issue that continues to be talked about."

But as Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, pointed out, Jennings and Schneider aren't running against Harris. They're running against candidates who would also be newcomers to the district and to the culture of Washington.

Unless, of course, the unexpected event that everyone is contemplating happens, and Harris is once again a congressional candidate.

Stephen Majors, Tallahassee reporter for The Herald covering state politics, can be reached at smajors@HeraldToday.com

1 Comments:

At March 28, 2006 4:55 PM, Anonymous JR said...

Christine Jennings released her ethics reform package recently, and it's a great start towards assuring us of accountability in Congress. http://www.christinejenningsforcongress.com/index.asp?Type=B_LIST&SEC={5965CAB7-0EF6-4A50-807C-8E566295FC00}

 

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