Monday, November 24, 2003

Uh, Katherine…Hold That Thought

From The American Prospect, (and as BBWW noted last week), Rep. Katherine Harris is warming up to run for the open Senate seat here in Florida in 2004. Trouble is, the people most worried about her running aren’t the Democrats.

The former Florida secretary of state and current Republican congresswoman helped hand the White House to George W. Bush during the Florida recount of 2000. Now she is seriously weighing a bid for the seat being vacated next year by retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D). Harris, who has less than a year of legislative experience in Washington under her belt, told The Miami Herald recently that she’s “getting a lot of anecdotal evidence” that her candidacy would help Bush’s re-election efforts. She also said her campaign would allow her to “gut all the inane arguments that [Democrats] make about the recount, which are really ludicrous.”

But it’s the prospect of a Harris candidacy that should be causing both Bushes to lose sleep. While she would bring a proven fund-raising record and high name recognition to the ticket, she is also one of the party’s most polarizing figures. And she’ll remind Floridians that many of their votes for president in the 2000 election simply didn’t count. In a state that Bush won by just 537 votes that year, he can’t afford any problems. (You can also bet that the Democratic nominees for the presidency and the Senate will mention her name at every campaign stop in the state.)

There’s another twist here as well. Conventional wisdom has long held that it was the Democrats who needed to avoid refighting the 2000 battle in 2004. No one likes a sore loser, and many strategists worried that if the Dems appeared to be whining about the ambiguous results of 2000, voters might believe that the party hadn’t moved on during the last four years, even though the country has.

But the flap over a potential Harris candidacy reveals that Republicans may be just as scared of the shadow of 2000 as Democrats. September 11 may have helped the administration shake the specter of illegitimacy that haunted its first nine months in office, but a Harris candidacy — and the glut of national media attention that it would focus on Florida — could revive in voters’ minds the question of whether Bush really won the 2000 election fair and square. As he tries to defend his actions in Iraq and his handling of the economy, that’s one additional headache that Bush won’t want to deal with.

So neither Democrats nor Republicans have an interest in refighting 2000. That’s a good thing for the country, the voters and pretty much everyone — except Katherine Harris. It will always be in Harris’ interest to rehash 2000, because she will always be a creature of those strange weeks that followed the presidential election — and because the GOP owes her big-time for her role in the recount, and she knows it.

There can be little doubt that Harris sees 2000 as her ticket to bigger and better things in the world of politics; the fact that she wrote a book about her role in the debacle (and hilariously titled it Center of the Storm: Practicing Principled Leadership in Times of Crisis) suggests that soon after the recount ended, she devised a plan to milk her newfound notoriety for all it was worth.

Gee, and I thought she’d run for the Senate to serve the people of Florida. More fool me.