- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who drew high praise from Republicans and stinging outrage from Democrats for her role in the 2000 presidential election recount, filed papers yesterday making her a candidate for the House of Representatives.

Mrs. Harris, 44, is seeking the 13th Congressional District seat held by Rep. Dan Miller, a Republican who plans to retire when his fifth term ends next year. She said she has been inspired to serve her state and the residents of the Sarasota area by the courage and determination displayed in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks.

"While I can't put on a uniform, I want to do something to make a difference," said Mrs. Harris, who made her announcement at a press conference yesterday at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, a location chosen to draw attention to the safety of air travel.

"This is a way I can fight for the country in another capacity," she told The Washington Times in a telephone interview.

A fourth-generation Floridian and granddaughter of a wealthy citrus and agriculture magnate, Mrs. Harris was elected as secretary of state in 1998 after serving four years as a state senator. During her time as secretary, she has championed economic development, traveling abroad frequently to deepen Florida's trade relationship with other nations.

Prior to holding public office, Mrs. Harris, a Harvard graduate, worked as an IBM marketing executive and vice president of a commercial real estate firm.

Mrs. Harris, who is married to businessman Anders Ebbeson and has a 19-year-old daughter, Louise, gained worldwide attention in November when her office supervised a contentious five-week recount after the closest presidential election in history.

Republicans hailed her as a hero, praising her determination to follow the law. For Democrats, she became public enemy No. 1, with pundits attacking her personal appearance and ambition and calling her a "Soviet commissar" and "a crook."

Mrs. Harris said she knew she followed the proper course, and had worked since November to help push through election reforms.

"I don't consider myself a victim," she says of the election fracas. "It goes with the territory."

As a congressional candidate, she said, she plans on walking her district, knocking on doors and holding town-hall meetings to earn the trust of her constituents and learn what issues they want her to take to Washington.

Her opponent in the Republican primary, computer consultant Chester Flake, criticizes her as a "celebrity" politician and views her congressional bid as yet another career-building move. He has urged her to resign her post as the state's chief electoral official, saying "she can't be a baseball player and the referee."

"I think she represents typical politics," said Mr. Flake, 27, a conservative who is making his first bid for public office. "She says that we don't have money to change the voting system and then she asked the Legislature for $5 million for her own travel expenses.

"I'm somebody who works," he said, noting Mrs. Harris' personal wealth. "I did not inherit the money I will spend on this race."

Mrs. Harris' travel expenses are under investigation by a special review committee.

Mrs. Harris is considered a favorite to take the heavily Republican district, which includes many senior citizens.

Kim Rubey, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, says Democrats are looking at several potential candidates to challenge Mrs. Harris. She called Mrs. Harris a "weak candidate" with "a whole host of vulnerabilities" who has used her national notoriety to travel to various states to help Republican candidates raise money.

"She has decided to become a national figure in the Republican Party," Miss Rubey said. "Her cavalier attitude toward Florida voters and the Florida law will undoubtedly affect candidates at every level."

Florida political consultant Dave Beattie agrees, noting that while Mrs. Harris may prove popular among voters in her own district, she is unpopular in other areas of the state where election wounds have yet to heal.

"I think she very well could become part of the story in the gubernatorial race as an example of problems with partisanship, specifically in South Florida," said Mr. Beattie, whose firm has offices in Fernandina Beach and in Washington.

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