Image: Vern Buchanan
Steve Nesius  /  AP file
Republican Congressional candidate Vern Buchanan
updated 10/20/2006 9:22:13 AM ET 2006-10-20T13:22:13

High-profile Republicans are rushing to help salvage the party’s hold on a Florida congressional seat that likely would have been secure had Katherine Harris been the incumbent.

With Harris leaving the seat to make a bid for the U.S. Senate, despite her party’s initial disapproval, Florida’s politically conservative 13th District is threatening to fall into the hands of Democrats.

The prospect of a GOP loss brought Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Mel Martinez and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney here Thursday to campaign for businessman Vern Buchanan, whose internal polls show him trailing slightly.

Even after spending about $5 million — more than half of that from his own pocket — Buchanan is beginning a string of events that Republicans hope will push him past Democrat Christine Jennings, a former bank executive.

“He’s a good man. He’s proven himself committed to this community and he believes in the bedrock principles of our party,” Bush said.

Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to take control of the House.

Bush’s brother, President Bush, is flying to the district Tuesday, the day after the president’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, hosts a Washington fundraiser for Buchanan.

'You can’t buy me'
Buchanan, who owns an auto dealership among other business interests, is struggling in the heavily Republican district largely because of attacks in the primary, which he won with 32 percent of the vote in a five-way race. Jennings has continued the attacks, suggesting that Buchanan has had corrupt business dealings. Her campaign did not respond to a call seeking comment.

2006 key racesBuchanan said his business dealings have been legitimate and the attacks are a distortion. He said he is wealthy enough that he can be independent.

“You can’t buy me. I don’t need the money that’s up in Washington,” he said. “I’m not going up there for some guy to buy me lunch.”

Martinez also defended him from the attacks, saying that anyone in business will have disputes from time to time that need to be resolved by lawyers.

“The sad part about of the charges is there’s so little to them. There’s such a veneer of nothing,” Martinez said. “He’s a good, honest, ethical man.”

Harris, who oversaw the 2000 presidential recount as Florida’s secretary of state, is badly trailing incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in polls and fundraising.

At one point, Gov. Bush publicly said he didn’t think she could beat Nelson, and party leaders tried to persuade others to run against her for the nomination. She has served two terms in Congress.

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