WASHINGTON – Far from the imperious caricature drawn during the 2000 presidential election scandal, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris is a tiny woman with a slight southern drawl who likes to talk about how at age 19, she went home after an internship in "evil" Washington, D.C., and resolved never to return.
But Harris -- who the more partisan talking heads once nicknamed "Cruella De Vil" after the brutal grande dame bent on killing puppies in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians -- just might be making that trip anyway, as she’s expected to win Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat next month.
The high-profile Republican also ventured inside the Beltway this week to promote her new book, Center of the Storm, which less than a week after its release, is already climbing up the Amazon.com book charts.
"We think it will be a best seller," said Joseph Farrah, CEO of WorldNetDaily.com, which teamed up with Thomas Nelson Publishers to create WND Books. Center of the Storm is WND's debut offering.
The upbeat, 300-page tome might disappoint those looking for words of retribution and payback from Harris, whom Democrats still blame for Vice President Al Gore’s defeat two years ago in the 2000 presidential election. Instead, it is a chronology of challenge and struggle, and the personal thoughts of a woman who appears to have emerged from both in pretty good shape.
"Everyone wanted me to do a slash and burn, kiss and tell story, but I didn’t have that kind of angst," she told reporters Thursday.
But not everyone buys the routine. Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, said Harris is merely cashing in on her role in the election, while Democrats continue to be criticized for "not getting over it."
"Republicans always try to take shots at us, saying we're living in the past, dwelling on the 2000 election, while she's out there on a book tour doing the same thing," he charged.
"If anyone has used their role in the election to their own benefit it's been Katherine Harris," Banfill added. "I think Floridians would have been a little happier if she boned up on election law rather than looking into the past and writing her memoirs."
Nevertheless, at a mostly GOP-attended reception in her honor on Wednesday, Harris faced a long line of folks seeking her signature on Center of the Storm. Recognizable faces like Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., shifted in and out of the crowd, praising the woman who had been accused of being a tool of the Bush family, and using a garden trowel to make up her face each day.
"She is a woman with tremendous energy, integrity and possesses as much courage as most individuals I know in Washington," said Barr, who was pushed into forced retirement after redistricting led to a losing primary battle against incumbent Republican Rep. John Linder.
A fourth-generation Floridian and Harvard graduate, Harris found herself in the media spotlight for the first time after she certified the Florida election in the midst of county recounts, missing ballots and mass confusion from voters who said they may have mistakenly cast the wrong vote on Election Day 2000.
On Nov. 26, 2000, Harris certified Bush as the winner in Florida by 537 votes, placing the secretary of state square in the political firing line. She said she received death threats after the election, which the U.S. Supreme Court finally ended in favor of Bush.
To this day, Harris, who blows off everything but the death threats as meaningless static, is proud of her initial decision to certify the ballots.
"Those who called me ‘czarina,’ or ‘Cruella de Vil’ … they still can’t point to a single solitary thing that I did wrong," she said.
"I did what I believed was right," Harris added.
So far, the book has sold 60,000 of the 100,000 copies initially printed, said her publicists.
Meanwhile, Harris has raised more than $2.6 million in her race against Democrat Jan Schneider in a district that is majority Republican. Banfill warned against writing off a Democratic win at this stage.
"There are no shoo-ins in Florida, you have to run and you have to win, and I don’t know how many votes you can get when you're in Washington for the last three days," he said.
Despite the bad blood with Democrats, staunch conservatives shouldn't cast her in the same mold as party leaders and Texas Reps. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey. Harris said she is fiscally conservative, but socially moderate. She considers the environment and taking care of senior citizens her top issues. She’s not crazy about privatization in education and doesn’t care to talk about abortion.
As for her career as an author, and being the center of attention, she said, "It’s humbling and overwhelming."