Harris backed by state GOP
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
LAKE BUENA VISTA - If there was any remaining doubt that Florida's top Republican leaders weren't behind Katherine Harris's run for U.S. Senate, those leaders did their best Saturday to cast it aside.
Gov. Jeb Bush said he would campaign for Harris and encouraged a crowded room of Republican activists to do the same. At a separate rally following his speech, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings gave strong praise to Harris and told her, "Go, run and win."
And supporters scoffed at the nay-sayers who think she can't win and the polls showing Harris far behind incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.
"People say to me 'How can she win, she's 20 points behind in the polls?' and I say, 'Polls mean nothing at this point in the campaign,' " said Ed Rollins, who was President Reagan's political director.
"The way she's going to win is the same way Jeb won (and) President Bush won," he said. "It's you Floridians who turn out and vote."
During her speech, which took place as the Republican Party of Florida wrapped up its quarterly meeting, Harris said she would dedicate the rest of her campaign to her father's memory. George Harris, 71, died unexpectedly eight days earlier.
"He was the kindest, most humble man I've ever known. He always looked at the best in people and he believed that life should always be about helping everyone else," Harris said. "Like my father, I'm making this campaign all about people."
Her remarks were missing the politically charged attacks on Nelson that she unfurled when announcing her candidacy last August. Instead, she gave a positive message of achieving dreams and an expression of thanks to supporters.
"We need your help, I'm going to ask so very much of you, but I promise you that I'll give you so very, very much in return when we get to the United States Senate," she said.
After the speech, she said, "I just don't have it in me to be political right now."
Many waited for autographs and photos with Harris when she finished speaking. Once the crowd left, she reflected more on her father, at times becoming choked up.
"He's my best friend and now he's with me all the time," said Harris, who then laughed fondly as she described him standing on a street corner in an Uncle Sam outfit while helping her campaign.
She also talked about how as a banker, he helped many poor people who otherwise wouldn't have qualified for loans meet their needs.
"When they came back to try to pay a little bit back, he would talk to them and explain to them that the way to pay him back was they had to make certain in the future that they did this for somebody else, and he wouldn't let them pay him back," she said. "I want to make sure that every day in my life that I help people in their individual lives."
The campaign to this point hasn't been easy for Harris. GOP leaders in Washington searched for another candidate, convinced that voters were polarized by her role as Florida's secretary of state in the 2000 presidential election recount and that she could not win.
Fund-raising has also gone slower than she expected and she acknowledged Saturday that she gave her campaign $250,000 during the final quarter of last year. She said, however, that she raised more than $1 million in other cash contributions - double the amount she raised in her first quarter of fund-raising.
That compares to more than $6 million Nelson had in the bank by the end of September.
Harris shrugged off the numbers.
"We know that when we turn out the Republicans, we'll be victorious," she said.
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