Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Perils of Katherine Harris

The New York Times picks up the vibe that she’s going down.

“She’s finished,” said Jim Kane, the chief pollster for Florida Voter, a nonpartisan polling organization. “It’s a matter of when, not if, she’s going to do it.”

Ms. Harris was not granting interviews on Monday, and a spokeswoman, Morgan Dobbs, would not reveal when or what her announcement might be. But a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the committee expected Ms. Harris to stay in the race, and some analysts who have followed her tumultuous political career said they would not bet on her withdrawing.

“I have learned in watching Katherine Harris not to make predictions,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for The Cook Political Report.

Or, in the words of Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist in Tallahassee: “The God’s truth is, it’s impossible to know what’s in her head.”

Letting that last comment go by as way too soft a pitch, let’s consider who the Republicans would pick to replace her if she bailed. The NYT picks up on the weakness of Mark Foley in upstate areas and offers another name, that of Thomas Rooney, “a 35-year-old lawyer from Palm Beach County whose family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he would probably enter the race. But in an interview Monday, Mr. Rooney, who has never run for office, said he would not run if Republican leaders immediately endorsed another candidate should Ms. Harris drop out.” So who does that leave? There is only one widely popular Republican in the state who could really offer a slam-dunk challenge to Bill Nelson, and that’s Jeb. And everyone knows that he’s got his eyes on another office.

So the Republicans are stuck with her for the time being, and she’s got her work cut out for her. Forget winning over moderate Democrats and independents; she still has to sell herself to people in her own party.

Mac Stipanovich, a Republican lobbyist and strategist in Tallahassee, said the party had treated Ms. Harris unfairly, not only because she was a vulnerable candidate, but also because some Republican leaders simply did not like her.

“I think she received less consideration from the powers that be than many less deserving candidates would have,” Mr. Stipanovich said. “Katherine can be difficult. But a lot of people can be difficult.”

With friends like that….