GOP Refuses to Back Harris in Senate Race

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) is all but guaranteed to be the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate in November's elections. But party leaders — chiefly Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — don't believe she can beat her Democratic Party rival and want her off the ticket. Madeleine Brand talks to S.V. Date, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post, about why Harris lacks the support of her party.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY and I'm Madeleine Brand.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams. In a few minutes: NBC's West Wing airs its very last episode Sunday evening. We'll talk with executive producer John Wells abut the show's seven year term in office. But first this political story from Florida.

BRAND: Katherine Harris was Florida's Secretary of State, then she presided over the vote recount in Florida that gave the 2000 Presidential election to George Bush. So you'd think the Bush family would be grateful for her help. But no. Katherine Harris is now running for Senate and Governor Jeb Bush has essentially turned his back on her. And here to tell us why Harris has become the Republican Party's persona non grata is S.V. Date. He's Tallahassee Bureau Chief for the Palm Beach Post in Florida. And welcome to the program.

Mr. S.V. DATE (Tallahassee Bureau Chief, Palm Beach Post): Thank you.

BRAND: Why do Republicans dislike her so much?

Mr. DATE: Not all Republicans dislike her. She is very popular among a certain percentage of folks who think that she was responsible for putting George W. Bush in the White House in 2000. In fact, I would suggest that the people who remain most intensely loyal to George Bush, the President, right now are probably her ardent supporters, at least in Florida.

BRAND: Well, it's kind of ironic that his own brother doesn't seem to like her.

Mr. DATE: No, no, he doesn't, but that really preceded the 2000 election. Governor Bush here, he's a hardworking guy who knows a lot about policy and he does not suffer people who do not work as hard as he does and know as much as he does very well, and one of those is Katherine Harris.

BRAND: But she's also become a bit of a national joke. She appears on the David Letterman show as the punch line to many bad jokes, so...

Mr. DATE: How did this happen?

BRAND: Yeah.

Mr. DATE: Well, in Florida I guess it's not really that much of a surprise. She kind of had an interesting, shall we put it, political career even before 2000. She was elected to a statewide office really because the incumbent at the time had gone to be Jeb Bush's running mate in 1998. She'd gotten out of it because of ethical issues, and were it not for that Katherine Harris would not be, would not have been Secretary of State.

BRAND: There are some serious questions about her and campaign contributions, I understand, and she has been linked to disgraced a Congressman who has pled guilty to accepting bribes, Randy Duke Cunningham. Tell us about these allegations.

Mr. DATE: Right. Well, what happened was this contractor bundled a whole bunch of campaign contributions to her and it turned out that he'd actually been doing it illegally. He'd been reimbursing employees for making them. And she claims that, you know, that she knew nothing about it and at this point prosecutors agree with her that she had no reason, that they have no reason to think that she had done it. However, you go back 12 years and her campaign had received about 11,000 in illegal campaign contributions from a Florida insurance company, and in that particular case her campaign had actually called the company, Risk Corp, and told them, look, it looks funny that all these checks are coming from the same address, can you put people's different addresses on for some of them? And so to us in Florida, we've seen this story before, and it didn't get much better the second time around, and that really did not help her in terms of her campaign for the United States Senate.

BRAND: This is the same defense contractor, just to be clear, who has pleaded guilty in the Cunningham case?

Mr. DATE: That's correct.

BRAND: And you know, I hate to bring this up, but you kind of have to in this conversation about Katherine Harris: What's going on with her appearance? First of all, here she, she releases a photo of herself astride a horse in a spandex, whatever it is.

Mr. DATE: Yeah, a hot pink spandex shirt, if I remember correctly.

BRAND: Right.

Mr. DATE: What's going on with Katherine Harris' appearance? Well, I think that's a question a lot of folks in Florida find fascinating, ever since the recount time. She goes to the rodeo ever year or every other year, whatever it is, and dresses up in interesting outfits, but it just does not put out the kind of image you want in someone running for the United States Senate.

BRAND: It is a touchy issue because, you know, we're not supposed to talk about someone's appearance, especially a woman's appearance. It's immediately branded as sexist. But in this case it's become a central issue in her campaign.

Mr. DATE: It has, and it's partly, even largely, her own fault. I mean she did her announcement and did a piece on Fox News where she stood in an interesting way during the entire interview, and every time you see her, this is part of the Katherine Harris persona, is how's she gonna look today and won't that be interesting? And she's not done anything, it appears, to tamp that down over the years.

BRAND: S.V. Date, thank you.

Mr. DATE: Thank you for having me.

BRAND: S.V. Date is Tallahassee Bureau Chief for the Palm Beach Post in Florida.

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