Thursday, May 11, 2006

Florida Follies

In a way, you have to admire Katherine Harris. She’s tenacious to a fault, which is a quality that I am sure is admirable in most circumstances. As a matter of fact, I’m really glad she is such a scrappy fighter because it pretty much guarantees that Bill Nelson will win re-election to the Senate from Florida. The Republicans who are so desperate to find someone else to run against him have pretty much run out of options.

House Speaker Allan Bense rejected the high-level push from the White House, the governor and their political network Wednesday and decided not to enter the U.S. Senate race, leaving U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris the lone Republican.

And he handed his party a mess to mend.

Bense told Gov. Jeb Bush and others Wednesday that he preferred to head home to Panama City rather than seek the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November — despite warnings this week from Bush that Harris “can’t win” and pledges from Bush-family backers to send Bense money and support.

“It was a great time to do some soul-searching and figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up, but I decided that the U.S. Senate was not something I could do right now,” said Bense.

Bush said he was disappointed and agreed to support Harris, but suggested she still may not be the nominee. “I’m going to support the Republican nominee, if she is the nominee,” Bush said. “Sure. If there’s no one else filing, she will get the support of all God-fearing Republicans.”

Republicans have little time left before Friday’s filing deadline to find a challenger to Harris or get behind her campaign.

Some Republicans say Harris’ campaign, already wracked with trouble, now becomes more vulnerable after the public spectacle of Bush and others courting someone to run against her.

You can almost hear Jeb and the rest of the party cringing as the Harris campaign shoulders on in spite of the gaffes, blunders, a massive exodus of staff, and now a link to the same defense contractor who bribed Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Republican congressman from California who is now the bitch of Cellblock D.

Harris, in a statement, tried to steer clear of continued doubts about her candidacy and said she was focused on beating Nelson, whom she again branded as a “liberal.” But at the same time, Harris said she would be an “independent voice,” giving at least a hint that she was prepared to forge ahead without the blessing of top Republicans.

“Former Sen. Zell Miller [of Georgia] once said, it’s not what team you’re on that is important, it’s what side you’re on that matters,” Harris’ statement said. “I couldn’t agree more, and plan to cast every vote as a United States senator with the philosophy that I will always be on the side of Floridians and our nation, first and foremost.”

Yeah…quoting Zell Miller, the man who once challenged Chris Matthews to a duel on live TV, pretty much guarantees her the vote of the moderate and independent voters that make up the bulk of the undecideds in Florida.

In a related campaign note, Jeb’s big brother is pushing his sibling to go into the family business. Frankly, if the standard set by his brother is any guide, Jeb couldn’t do any worse as president, and in objective terms, Jeb has not been a disaster as governor of Florida, which means he didn’t blow up anything. (That’s not to say I would ever, ever vote for him in any other race.) If he is the smart one in the family, he’ll retire to Star Island and live off the generous FRS pension I’m paying into.

As for Ms. Harris, I hope she keeps on bravely. As the immortal Leo McGarry once said, “If you’re going to hit the wall, do it running full-speed.”