Friday, February 24, 2006

Bush's Florida baggage

If Hillary Clinton is the Democrats' most polarizing celebrity (see yesterday's post), Katharine Harris might well wear the same crown for the GOP. Harris, you will recall, was the Florida secretary of state who, in her dual role as Bush-Cheney activist and neutral arbiter of the state's election laws, managed to rule in Bush's favor at every key juncture during the post-2000 election imbroglio. She has since won two elections as the Sarasota region's congresswoman - in a heavily Republican district - without erasing her image as a lightning rod for Democrats and Bush-averse independents.
And today that image is giving the White House a big headache. She may have been supremely useful in November and December of 2000, but she is sheer baggage in the winter of 2006. She is running for the U.S. Senate in Florida -- this should be one of the most entertaining races of the year -- and trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. The White House would dearly love to topple Nelson, because that outcome would make it virtually impossible for the Democrats to take over the Senate.
The problem is, Harris appears to be anathema to everybody in Florida who is not a conservative Bush loyalist. She is so toxic, in fact, that the White House - which apparently is not bound by loyalty - has tried to recruit somebody else (ideally, someone with more broad-based statewide appeal) to either muscle Harris out of the race or at least challenge her in a primary. As this new piece makes clear, at least four Republicans have told the Bush team no dice.
It's inordinantly expensive to run statewide in Florida, and other GOPers know that Harris - who is personally wealthy anyway - will probably win the party primary, which tends to draw a disproportionate number of the conservative voters who still view Harris' 2000 performance as a profile in courage. And besides, as other events these days suggest, many Republicans don't necessarily think it's politically advantageous anymore to be seen as carrying water for Bush.
Result: Harris is getting creamed in the latest poll matchup with Nelson, particularly among the pivotal independents.

Speaking of baggage, however, the Democrats still have Howard Dean. One year after he took over as chairman, he still can't seem to get the requisite respect from party bigwigs. Usually, his problem is that southern Democrats avoid him like the plague, figuring that his antiwar northern liberal profile will turn off the locals. But the other day, the governor of the state of Washington, Democrat Christine Gregoire, followed suit, by decreeing that there shall be no photographs of her and Dean swapping the usual smiles -- as reported here (closing paragraphs).