- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

Speculation continues to mount that Rep. Katherine Harris, Florida Republican, will bail out of her bid for a U.S. Senate seat, possibly as early as tomorrow.

A source who asked to remain anonymous because of closeness to the Harris campaign, said her announcement is expected to come tomorrow and acknowledged there is a “strong indication” Mrs. Harris will bow out.

The second-term congresswoman has been saddled with a purported ethics scandal, lackluster polling numbers and less than stellar fundraising.

Her campaign has promised Republicans a “major announcement” this week, but has given no indication whether that announcement will signal the end of her struggling campaign to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat.

“We’re planning on moving forward with Katherine Harris as the candidate,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Nick. “Until we hear something different, that’s what we’re doing.”

Canceling her scheduled appearance at last weekend’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Mrs. Harris told fellow Republicans in a statement she was bowing out of that appearance, “as I prayerfully prepare with my family, friends and advisors to finalize the strategy for a major announcement next week concerning my candidacy for the U.S. Senate.”

Pressure may be mounting on Mrs. Harris to exit early enough for a viable challenger to Mr. Nelson to emerge.

Rep. Mark Foley and Florida House Speaker Allan G. Bense are considered potential Republican primary challengers for Mrs. Harris in the Sept. 5 primary, presenting a predicament for the Republicans as the general election follows just two months later.

Should Mrs. Harris give up her Senate hopes, she would have until May 12 to file for re-election to the House, where she represents Florida’s 13th District.

Mrs. Harris has struggled in her campaign fundraising efforts. The most recent numbers show her raising $2.5 million, compared with $10 million for Mr. Nelson.

In addition, a recent sampling by a Republican polling firm, Strategic Vision, showed her with an approval rating of just 35 percent and trailing Mr. Nelson 49 to 34 percent.

Tallahassee Republican strategist Rick Wilson told the Orlando Sentinel, “I have no happy fairyland vision that she can win.”

The Harris campaign has been tainted by donations from Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who admitted to bribing former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican. Mr. Wade told authorities he also made illegal contributions to Mrs. Harris’ campaign, but she has not been accused of knowingly accepting the money.

Although her campaign has returned all of the Wade donations, records show she had unsuccessfully sought $10 million in federal budget earmarks for his firm, MZM.

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