U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who gained international attention for her role in the 2000 presidential recount, will not enter the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, she announced Friday.
Harris said at a news conference that she instead would to run for re-election to the House.
As Florida’s secretary of state, Harris oversaw the disputed count that gave George W. Bush a crucial 537-vote victory over Al Gore in Florida. Bush’s political advisers have feared that her candidacy would refresh memories of the recount, generating a large turnout from angry Democrats and hurting his chances of carrying the state. Florida’s 27 electoral votes are expected to be crucial in the 2004 presidential contest.
Polls cast her as Republican leader
Harris teased her steadily applauding supporters, first saying, “After careful deliberation I am here to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate.” Then she added: “But just not yet this year.”
As part of her agreement to stay out of this year's race, Harris will help the party raise money for Bush and other Republicans while getting access to their donors, a Republican source said. That would allow her to build a large campaign account in preparation for running against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006.
“She's going to be profiled as the rising star in the Republican Party,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Harris has said she has been encouraged to seek the seat, buoyed by favorable polls showing her as the early front-runner. A poll released last month by The Miami Herald and The St. Petersburg Times found that Harris had the support of 29 percent of Republican voters, followed by former Rep. Bill McCollum, with 15 percent, and former U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, with 11 percent. Thirty-eight percent were undecided.
Harris has long flirted with a Senate campaign. In July, she likened her chances of getting into the race to three bodies in the solar system aligning in a straight line — a rare astrological phenomenon.
But when Democratic Sen. Bob Graham announced in November that he would not seek re-election, Harris called it a “blip on the radar screen” and reconsidered the campaign.
A darling of Republican activists
Harris said all along that she simply followed the letter of the law during the presidential recount drama, but she became a darling of Republican activists afterward and was elected last year to Congress.
Her fame helped her amass nearly $3 million for her 2002 congressional campaign. Through the end of the September fund-raising period, she had nearly $350,000 on hand, money that could be transferred to a Senate race.
Democrats had expressed hope that Harris would enter the race, arguing that it would enhance fund-raising and focus more attention on the campaign.
The field of Democrats include former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor of Tampa, Rep. Peter Deutsch of Lauderhill and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Peñelas.