Harris has big impact in decision not to run

Harris' announcement has widespread ramifications and finally cements the Republican field for the Senate.

Published: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 1:00 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - In a tribute to her undiminished starpower, Katherine Harris' decision not to run for the U.S. Senate still struck like lightning. It sent sparks everywhere from Washington to Tallahassee to Southwest Florida since her decision had ramifications on the presidential race, seats in Congress, the Florida Legislature and even the Sarasota County Republican Party.
In a matter of minutes, the political aspirations of some Republicans were blocked, while the fortunes of others rose, especially the remaining GOP candidates vying for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Miami Lakes.
Her announcement - televised briefly nationally until Michael Jackson upstaged her - also finally cements the Republican field for the Senate. Those seeking the nomination include former U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, state Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, and former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith.
"I would be very surprised if any other Republicans jumped in," said Geoffrey Becker, executive director for the Republican Party of Florida. "I think we have a very strong field, but I think this is the field."
The Republican nominee will square off against either former Education Commissioner Betty Castor, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas or U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fort Lauderdale, in the November election.
Those immediately impacted by Harris' decision were contenders considering seeking her congressional seat that covers most of Manatee County, all of Hardee, DeSoto, Sarasota counties and a sliver of western Charlotte County.
This marks the second time that Harris' fortunes have tripped up Sarasota County Republican Party Chairman Tramm Hudson, who had planned to run for Congress in 2002 when U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, R-Bradenton, stepped down. He stepped aside for Harris two years ago and he is doing so again this year.
"I've wanted to run for Congress for years," said Hudson, who admitted he was "a little disappointed" that Harris had decided not to run for the Senate. "But we're friends and I support her."
Harris' decision to stay out of the U.S. Senate contest was good news for all the other GOP candidates but mostly Byrd and Webster. Harris would have automatically vaulted to front-runner had she run and would have likely forced both Webster and Byrd out of the race.
"Katherine Harris would have been a very formidable candidate," said Kathy Mears, a spokeswoman for Webster's campaign. "She is an excellent congresswoman and will continue to serve Florida well. We look forward to a great campaign."
But Harris' announcement that she would seek a Senate seat in the future also has ramifications in 2006. It sets up the possibility of an expensive campaign against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, that will likely attract massive national television coverage and could even overshadow the race for governor.
By announcing so forcefully that she would run for Senate in the future, one Republican Party official said Friday that Harris had served notice against any other GOP challengers that they would be in for an uphill battle.

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