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From Bad to Worse for Katherine Harris

February 25, 2006

Things just keep going from bad to worse for Katherine Harris. The GOP's 2000 Florida recount heroine is facing almost certain defeat in her upcoming 2006 Senate race, a campaign her one-time Republican backers in DC pulled out all the stops to prevent. Now comes the news that Harris accepted $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Duke Cunningham's bagman, Mitchell Wade of defense contractor MZM.
Michael Crowley in The New Republic details Harris' fall from grace among national Republicans. Celebrated with flowers and marriage proposals after her successful efforts as Florida Secretary of State to block Al Gore's 2000 recount hopes, Harris' repeated stumbles and polarization of the Florida electorate has alienated the national GOP. Despite her personal wealth, fund-raising success and name recognition, Harris just squeaked by in her two house races in 2002 and 2004. Her high disapproval numbers were only made worse by "ThreatGate," Harris' fabricated claims in 2004 about the Bush administration's supposed thwarting of over 100 terrorist plots, including a mythical attempt to destroy the electrical grid in Carmel, Indiana.
The result for Harris is a dismal showing to date in her 2006 Senate race against the unpopular Democrat Bill Nelson. When the national GOP's "anyone but Harris" drive failed to bring Florida House Speaker Allan Bense, Representative Mark Foley, former Army General Tommy Franks or even MSNBC's Joe Scarborough into the race, one unnamed Republican operative said, "If Katherine Harris is the nominee, we lose." Those comments seem prescient, with Harris trailing Nelson by 15% in the polls and getting drubbed among independents by 64%-18%. It's no wonder President Bush won't do photo-ops with her anymore.
Harris' looming defeat by Nelson may only be the beginning of her troubles. On Friday, Mitchell Wade of defense contractor MZM, admitted making over $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Harris and Virginia Republican Virgil Goode. These revelation came as Wade pleaded guilty to four criminal charges stemming from his $1 million in cash, gifts and other bribes to former California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
Harris' spokeswoman Kara Borie acknowledged the donations to "Representative B" in court papers. Harris made a statement that she met Wade and "discussed opening a defense plant in Sarasota that would create numerous high-skilled, high-wage jobs in my district." Borie claimed that all of the donations from MZM had since been donated to charity.
The upshot is that Katherine Harris' future likely won't include a stint as Florida Senator. Instead, Harris' Florida legacy may end up closer to Paul Begala's description of her: Cruella de Vil "coming to steal the puppies."


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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