President Dodges Katherine Harris on Florida Visit

People involved in Florida politics say they've never seen anything like it: Deep in her campaign for U.S. Senate, Katherine Harris, is all but shunned by her party. On President Bush's recent trip, she was pointedly avoided and was not invited to travel to another GOP event with the president on Air Force One.

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The GOP Senate candidate in Florida has had her share of troubles. There was her comment that people should elect only Christians and there was her $2800 dinner with a defense lobbyist now under investigation.

NPR's David Welna reports she's now all but shunned by the Republican establishment.

DAVID WELNA: When I got to a Republican fundraiser in Tampa, I noticed a familiar face working the crowd. It was Katherine Harris, the woman who played such a key role - some would call it notorious - as Florida's secretary of state in the 2000 election recount. She's now the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. Now a lot of Republicans are not very happy to have Harris running. Polls show her lagging 30 points behind Nelson. If Harris was worried, she was not letting on.

Representative KATHERINE HARRIS (Republican, Florida): I'm happy to be campaigning today. I'm out all over the state as I am every day and I'm thrilled the president's here in support of (unintelligible).

WELNA: Earlier, flying down to Florida on Air Force One, I'd asked White House spokeswoman Dana Perino whether the president would be meeting with Harris. She said she knew of no specific meeting planned. Harris had a more positive spin.

You know, President Bush is going to be here momentarily.

Rep. HARRIS: Yeah, we're looking forward to it.

WELNA: And have you been in contact with the White House about this visit?

HARRIS: Yes, we have. We were invited, and pleased to be here and looking forward to being at the next event that they asked us to come as well.

WELNA: That next event was a GOP reception in Orlando, which Harris also planned to attend, but she was pointedly not invited to travel there with the President on Air Force One. Upon hearing this, Bill March, a reporter covering the fundraiser for the Tampa Tribune, simply shook his head.

Mr. BILL MARCH (Reporter, Tampa Tribune): People involved in politics in Florida say they've never seen anything like it. The Harris campaign now has its fourth campaign manager, its fourth field director and its fourth press spokesperson.

WELNA: And when I asked Trey Traviesa, GOP state representative from Tampa, about Harris's senate bid, he chose his words carefully.

Mr. TRAY TRAVIASA (Republican State Representative, Florida): It's certainly been a tumultuous run for her, but at the end of the day we need that seat in Republican hands.

WELNA: You think she's the person to get that for you?

Mr. TRAVIASA: She's the nominee.

(Soundbite of gathering)

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

WELNA: Harris was not invited on stage with the President, though he did at one point acknowledge her presence.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm proud to be here with Congresswoman Katherine Harris, running for the United States Senate.

WELNA: Afterward, as she stood along the (unintelligible), the president briefly shook Harris's hand before quickly moving on.

WELNA: Congresswoman, what did the President say to you?

Rep. HARRIS: He just wished me good luck.

WELNA: Were you pleased that he mentioned you?

Rep. HARRIS: Oh, thrilled. Very grateful. Thank you.

WELNA: Later I described the fleeting encounter to White House spokeswoman Perino.

And he spent about two seconds talking to her.

Ms. PERINO: And you question is?

WELNA: She's the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.

Ms. PERINO: You're correct, she is.

WELNA: That much the White House was willing to acknowledge. David Welna, NPR News.

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