Katherine Harris– Sputtering At The Starting Gate

Sixty days before the primary, Rep. Katherine Harris threw a South Florida “kick-off” for her campaign for Senate. She chose a traditional setting — the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana — and continued what’s become a Harris campaign tradition of foot-in-mouth.

This, after all, is the woman who launched her campaign months ago, not with a stirring call to excellence for Floridians, but with a complaint that news organizations were re-touching photos of her to exaggerate her makeup. She offered no evidence. It seemed a wacky way to re-introduce yourself to Florida’s voters.

It’s been six years since she was a central figure in the election drama of 2000. Republicans recall her role fondly. “She was there when we asked her to step up to the plate and we have to be loyal to her,” said Republican State Rep. Gus Barreiro, who introduced Harris at her Little Havana appearance. But a big chunk of the Florida electorate either sees her as a partisan hack, or as the late-night comedians painted her — a drone in Kabuki makeup.

In 2006, Harris has had to completely replace her top campaign staff (the first entourage bailed en masse in the spring) and has had to watch leading Florida Republicans try to recruit another Republican to run (Jeb Bush was touting House Speaker Allan Bense big time). She’s had to answer questions about her ethics — her dinner with a defense contractor and her subsequent attempt to earmark some federal money for his company.

Meanwhile, polls show Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson leading Harris in the Senate race by ever-increasing margins — 16 points in March (NBC6’s Mason-Dixon poll), 29 points in April (Quinnipiac University poll), 30 points in May (Strategic Vision) and 33 points in June (Quinnipiac, again).

So, Katherine Harris, after weeks of campaigning in small upstate counties, is now hitting the big cities hoping for a fresh start in the places where the bulk of voters are.

So what happened at Versailles? The sound system failed, the crowd of 70 or so ignored her speech in favor of the free food, only a few politicians showed up and then Katherine Harris makes a demonstrably untrue claim about her opponent.

She brought it up, claiming that Bill Nelson’s more liberal than Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, the Senators from New York state. “Hillary Clinton votes more conservatively than Bill Nelson in the National Journal’s ratings last year,” said Harris with authority, as our camera rolled.

But it’s not true. Look it up. We did. Click here to read what we found. Bottom line: Nelson, rated more liberal than 66 percent of his colleagues. Sen. Clinton gets an 80 percent rating (Schumer, 78 percent).

Nelson is more liberal than Harris herself (34 percent rating), but why Harris would make a claim so easily shot down is a mystery and would not suggest she’s running a very tight campaign ship. Add her credibility troubles to her negative ratings to Sen. Nelson’s considerable campaign treasury (about triple hers, at last report) and you’ve got a recipe for electoral rout.

Harris may not lose by 30 percent. She’ll point out that Bill Nelson voted against some of George W. Bush’s tax cuts (the “death tax”), voted against a “Sanctity of Marriage” amendment and voted against Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court — all positions that may bring some Republicans back into the fold.

But her hard line stance on immigration may not endear her to hispanic Republicans in south Florida. She says, though she voted for a bill that would make felons of illegal aliens, she did so knowing that that provision would be stripped out of the final legislation. Still, Bill Nelson’s Spanish-language ad on immigration practically writes itself — “I agree with Mel Martinez on immigration reform. My opponent disagrees with us and voted to make criminals of those without proper papers.”

The fine details of the issues may not matter if Harris keeps making claims like her “Bill’s more liberal than Hillary” misstatement.


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