SARASOTA, Fla. – Following on the heels of another Republican woman, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris ( search) made official Tuesday her bid to win the Florida GOP nomination to try to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson.
The Sarasota congresswoman hit on several issues during her announcement speech for the November 2006 race, including taxes, homeland security, health care and hurricane assistance without getting into specifics.
"After an extended listening tour which begins today, I will fully outline my agenda for Florida — a road map for change that remains heavy on security and light on taxes; strong on defense but even stronger for those who man our defense; for health care not limited by cost or availability; and relief for those in trouble that bridges every storm while harboring no excuse for delay," Harris said.
Harris held off in 2004 from running for the seat that eventually went to former Bush Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez (search). But now, she is defying some establishment Republicans who are said to prefer a less controversial candidate to take on the popular senator and former astronaut.
Those Republicans say Harris can't win because independent and Democratic voters don't think much of her.
But she may have a clear shot at Nelson. No other Republicans have expressed a strong interest in running. Even with an opponent, she would be considered a favorite to win the nomination because of her high name recognition, ability to raise money and hero status among Republican voters who believe she helped preserve Bush's 537-vote victory when she oversaw five weeks of recounts as Florida secretary of state.
A June Mason-Dixon poll showed that Nelson would beat Harris 53 to 36 percent if the election were held at the time. Her approval rating with voters in that poll was 32 percent. Nearly the same number, 30 percent, viewed her unfavorably.
A poll conducted by Republican polling firm Strategic Vision In July showed Harris would lose a head-to-head contest with Nelson 40 to 48 percent, but would easily win a primary against several other prominent Florida Republicans, including House Speaker Allen Bense, who has been encouraged to run by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (search).
Harris' staff is unlikely to focus on the Florida 2000 recount or remind voters of Harris' role. Instead, the campaign will begin with a five-day listening tour across the state.
Harris, 48, served in the state Senate from 1994-1998, before being elected as secretary of state. She was elected to her second term in Congress last year. She is the second GOP woman in two days to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate next year. On Monday, Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro (search) announced she would pursue the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) of New York next year.
Supporters say Harris has grassroot support behind her, and her 2000 election role will not hurt her in a statewide contest.
"Personally, I don't see any other credible candidate in the Republican Party," said Manatee County Republican Committee Chairman Mark Flanagan, who estimated that Harris has the support of every GOP county chair in the state. "I believe Katherine Harris will be a fantastic U.S. senator and I am thrilled that she has the courage to start her campaign."
FOX News' Kelley Beaucar Vlahos and The Associated Press contributed to this report .