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Politicos Await Katherine Harris Announcement

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

You may remember the name Katherine Harris. She was in the national spotlight during the Florida recount in the unforgettable 2000 election.

Representative KATHERINE HARRIS (Republican, Florida): On behalf of the State Elections Canvassing Commission, and in accordance with the laws of the State of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes.

NORRIS: Now, the two-term congresswoman is running for U.S. Senate against democrat Bill Nelson. And Katherine Harris is set to make another announcement tonight on national television. This one is about the future of her candidacy, which has been mired in controversy.

St. Petersburg Times reporter Anita Kumar has been covering the Florida Senate race. She joins us here in our Washington studio. Anita, thanks for coming in.

Ms. ANITA KUMAR (St. Petersburg Times, Florida): Sure.

NORRIS: First of all, what's happened with Katherine Harris's candidacy?

Ms. KUMAR: Well she's had a lot of problems for a number of months, and we don't actually know where things are going yet. But she could not get the Republican Party on board for several months. And in just recent weeks, the Florida republican Senator, the Governor, Jeb Bush, have endorsed her candidacy, and she seemed to be on track.

She does not have as much money as Bill Nelson. She has about a million dollars, he has about eight million in the bank. So she's had problems for a number of months. In recent days, the theory has been that she is using bad publicity to kind of turn it into good publicity, that, oh I'm going to make a big announcement and kind of create all this buzz, and so that a lot of people will tune in and pay attention.

NORRIS: Now we should explain that bad publicity. She's been juggling a few scandals.

Ms. KUMAR: A defense contractor, who has pleaded guilty in another case, admitted that he illegally funneled $38,000 worth of campaign contributions to her in 2004. So it was before she was running for Senate, she was running for Congress. She accepted the money not knowing anything, and she has since returned that money when prosecutors told her that the contractor, Mitchell Wade, did something wrong. He solicited funds, or campaign contributions, from his employees, sent them to her, and then reimbursed those employees, which is illegal under federal law.

NORRIS: So this is a scandal actually involving another member of congress, Randy Duke Cunningham.

Ms. KUMAR: Right. Right.

NORRIS: A contractor in that case said that he had made contributions to two other members of Congress. One of those members was Katherine Harris. And she in turn asked for ten million dollars for her district to open a facility for the company in Sarasota. The Congress did not agree to that money, but she's been under scrutiny for asking for the money. Why did she ask for the money if she didn't want to do a favor for him?

NORRIS: Now there's also speculation that she may, far from dropping out, may pour her own money into the race.

Ms. KUMAR: She is a millionaire, and she is a fourth generation Floridian, and her grandfather was a citrus and cattle farmer. The theory is that she's going to give herself about five million dollars to kind of get up to speed with Bill Nelson. That was sort of the theory yesterday, but now one of her key campaign staffers has quit, so we're not sure what that means now.

NORRIS: Well, you know, the key concern, I guess for Florida voters, is does she deliver. What's her reputation back at home?

Ms. KUMAR: It's split, you know. It's split just like it was during the election of 2000. She is a hero to some, and some people just hate her.

NORRIS: Now there are lots of ways to make this announcement, she could hold a press conference, she could just call reporters into her office. She's going to make this announcement on national television. That's a bit curious.

Ms. KUMAR: Earlier this week she said, her office announced that she would have a press conference and that it was probably going to be in her hometown, a small town called Bartow. And yesterday we got word that she had changed her mind and she wanted a one-time shot, just a national TV appearance.

She didn't want to answer a lot of questions, she just wanted one person. And she's chosen to go on a FOX show that she's been on many times before, HANNITY AND COLMES.

NORRIS: So if Katherine Harris does drop out of the race, who's the likely republican candidate?

Ms. KUMAR: That's the problem in Florida. The party doesn't really have anyone else. There are a lot of people that have been named. Probably one of the people that comes to mind is the Speaker of the Florida House, Alan Bentz. But he, last year, after the Governor asked him to run, he declined.

There's a few other names, but no prominent person that everyone says will do it.

NORRIS: Anita Kumar, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.

Ms. KUMAR: Thank you.

NORRIS: Anita Kumar is a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.