It’s impossible to overstate the feelings of respect and affection almost all Florida Republicans have for the outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush. We here in the Sunshine State understand intuitively why our governor is touted as presidential or vice presidential material in 2008 and beyond. When it comes to be Jeb’s time in the Oval Office, we undoubtedly will support him without reservation. That said, it must be argued that Florida’s governor has one more duty to Floridians interested in the best possible conservative representation.
It is time for Floridians, those interested in the future of the state and those interested in maintaining the Republican Party majority in the Senate, to draft Mr. Bush to run against him, if only as a write-in, on November’s ballot.
The likely Republican nominee, Sarasota Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, has no chance whatsoever to even run a competitive race against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Polls have her at 30 points down, and given her well-documented history of staff turnover and bizarre statements to the media, she has no chance of making up much more than a fraction of the gap.
Mrs. Harris does face some opposition in the primary, but she by far has the best name recognition of the slate of four candidates, and the general feeling among Florida Republicans is that, however nobly intentioned the candidates might be, the candidates got into the scrum a bit too late, and only after it became clear that the Harris campaign was floundering.
How bad is it? Though Florida House districts are traditionally “safe” seats, many Republican seats could be thrown into play by the absolute competitive imbalance in the Senate race. With the governorship of the state very much in the balance, likely Republican nominee Charlie Crist could use some force designed to galvanize Republicans and get them to the polls in a year where there might otherwise be a certain miasma in the grass-roots.
If Mrs. Harris had a record of strong constituent service or played an ideologically important role during her brief tenure in Congress, it might be easier to overlook her naked opportunism in managing to turn what could have been a competitive race into a likely obliteration of both her own political career and her party’s established gains in the Sunshine State. Sadly, though, the congresswoman has failed to distinguish herself in a way that would resonate with many in the Republican base, never mind the swing voters.
Repeatedly, Mrs. Harris has gone on the record saying things that a candidate ready for the national stage or a real leadership position would never say. Speaking to a Florida Baptist newsletter, the congresswoman offered this wisdom: “If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.” With that deft stroke, who knows how many voters she alienated?
In addition to unnecessarily offending undecideds and those who otherwise would happily support her, the congresswoman apparently sees her own rivals with contempt. She tells people at her rallies to disregard her awful poll numbers, while not even mentioning the intraparty debate the primary is supposed to cap off. It is reasonable to expect at least one vanquished primary opponent to endorse the incumbent.
Time after time, Florida Republicans have signaled distress at the idea of this misbegotten and hopeless general election campaign going forward. In a few days, it will likely be official. Katherine Harris, a national laughingstock, will be the poster child for Sun Belt Republicanism. She will be waxed like a tile floor in a Mop-n-Glo ad, and the beneficiary will be those elements who staunchly oppose President Bush’s policies.
All will be lost, unless, somehow, Jeb Bush is convinced to do right by Florida, run for the Senate and come to his brother’s aid.
A.G. Gancarski is a journalist and critic based in Jacksonville, Fla.