Katherine Harris Faces Many Challengers

Katherine Harris, Florida's former secretary of state, has earned plenty of competition in her House race, both in the Sept. 10 GOP primary and the Nov. 5 general election. 

As the state's top election official during the 2000 presidential election, she became a lightning rod for Democratic scorn when she declared, three weeks after the vote, that George W. Bush had won Florida's 25 electoral votes. 

Harris, who faces two other Republicans in the primary for the 13th Congressional District seat -- four Democrats are competing for their party's nomination -- doesn't seem to be deterred by the labels her opponents may try to stick her with. 

"It's the people's choice," Harris said. "I don't have an ax to grind ... I feel vindicated. I know I did the right thing [in November 2000], so it's up to the people if they want me to represent them." 

Each of her opponents says either that his own merits are superior to Harris' -- or that she will be her own undoing. 

"I understand public policy, I've done things to directly impact it, I've worked with elected officials at both the local, state and national level," said Charles McKenzie, a Democratic candidate. "I'm ready for this level of government." 

"This race isn't about Katherine Harris because of who she is, but what she stands for," said Jan Schneider, another Democratic hopeful. 

Harris has made education, the environment and health care the staples of her campaign to take the 13th District, which is being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Dan Miller. 

But as happened with the vote recount, the issues have been set aside as controversy surrounds Harris. 

"What we have is someone who's in over her head," said Wayne Genther, one of Harris' GOP opponents in the solidly Republican district. 

Late last week Harris quit her job, admitting that she should have resigned earlier, when she qualified to run for the congressional seat -- a state election rule that, as secretary of state, Harris herself was responsible for enforcing. 

"It certainly was a stumble on my part," Harris said. "I've admitted that I made a procedural error, that I was mistaken." 

Harris said she had believed the resignation rule applied only to elected officials. Florida secretaries of state are appointed by the governor. 

Gov. Jeb Bush immediately appointed former Secretary of State Jim Smith to the post. 

So far, donors don't seem to mind Harris' gaffe. Her hefty war chest, surpassing $2 million, is more than 10 times that of her closest challenger. 

Opponents say her money won't matter. 

"She's got money coming in from all over the country, but what's going to matter is the people here in this district," said Candice Brown-McElya, a Democratic candidate for the seat. 

"She has a lot of money," said John Hill, another Republican candidate. "We're finding it's working against her."