DUSTY RHOADES: Wacky Kathy: Harris' Campaign in Florida Melting Down
Politics has always had its moments of high drama and low comedy, with surprises, disasters, and reversals of fortune to keep things interesting. But the recent meltdown of Florida Representative Katherine Harris' run for the Senate has become truly entertaining.
You may remember Harris from the 2000 election, where she apparently didn't see any conflict of interest with serving as George Dubbya Bush's state campaign co-chair while at the same time serving as secretary of state, whose office was responsible for counting the votes.
Frankly, I expected her to be rewarded for her services by receiving a nice ambassadorship to the Bahamas or someplace like that. Instead she ran for the U.S. House, winning in 2002 and 2004.
When she decided to make a run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, however, Republican leaders such as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush expressed doubts about her viability in a statewide race.
Jeb may not have been far off the mark. Harris kicked off the campaign with a bizarre interview on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, during which whatever she said was obscured by her truly creepy flirting with co-host Alan Colmes, a man who, when seen head-on, looks like something you'd buy for your aquarium.
Combine that with her disconcerting habit of standing slightly sideways to the camera and arching her back so as to thrust her not-inconsiderable chest into bold relief, and you have one of the great media train wrecks of all time. (Reports that Pamela Anderson called afterwards and suggested that Rep. Harris dial it back a little could not be confirmed.)
After that, things went from bad to worse. One of her major contributors, defense contractor MZM Inc., turned out to be the major player in the bribery scandal that led to the resignation and imprisonment of California Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
In the midst of those revelations, Harris' campaign finance director and treasurer resigned. They were followed in April by more than a half-dozen other staffers, including her campaign manager. Another mass walkout occurred in June when staffers discovered that Harris had received a federal grand jury subpoena over the MZM matter and had kept it from the staff.
Yet another wave of resignations occurred in July, when another campaign manager and several other staffers quit, citing Harris' "tantrums" and "erratic behavior." "The more that we put her out there," one anonymous staffer complained, "the more she shot herself in the foot."
It got so bad that, when Harris held a rally on Aug. 18 in which she promised appearances by nine high-profile Florida Republicans, not a single one showed up. One, in fact, even told the press that he didn't understand why Harris had included him in a list of her supporters, because he'd endorsed a Republican opponent who entered the race in July. Harris was forced to speak to the "crowd" (if you can call 40 people a crowd) all by herself.
We'll let The Orlando Sentinel describe what happened next: "Harris spoke in an airplane hangar that seemed to highlight the modest size of the crowd. She said a last-minute location change -- required because a tree fell on the hangar where the event was supposed to be held -- kept crowd numbers down. Airport officials, however, said no hangar had been damaged by a tree and that the rally was in the hangar that had been originally booked."
That kind of desperation, like an unpopular high-school girl feverishly trying to explain why no one showed up for her sweet-16 party ("the invitations must have gotten lost in the mail!") is almost enough to make you feel sorry for poor Kathy.
Almost, but not quite. Especially after Rep. Harris pulled out one of Karl Rove's well-worn tricks: When all else is failing, pander to the Religious Right. Harris gave an interview with a religious journal, The Florida Baptist Witness, in which she called the idea of separation of church and state a "lie," then dropped this bombshell: "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence, you are going to legislate sin."
Apparently, Rep. Harris forgot for a moment how many Jewish people there are in Florida. Some of them, it seems, took offense to this "Christians only" stance. Go figure. Harris responded to their criticism by sending out a press release that pointed out that, hey, one of her staff members is a Jew. Too bad Mel Gibson couldn't have thought of that. If Mel had just come out and said, "Hey, Jews are all right, I have some working for me," I'll bet his whole controversy would have blown right over.
It didn't seem all that long ago when the Republican Party was riding high, crowing about "permanent majorities." And indeed, for a while there, they looked darn near unstoppable.
But from Virginia senatorial candidate George Allen's gaffe where he referred to his opponent's campaign staffer (an American citizen of Indian descent) as "Macaca" and sneered "Welcome to America," to Harris' disastrous campaign in Florida, the Republicans are looking more and more like the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
What will Wacky Kathy do next? Stay tuned.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. His third novel, "Safe and Sound," will be released next year.
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