Lawsuit Seeks to Bounce Katherine Harris From Ballot

July 7, 2008 - 7:29 PM

(CNSNews.com) - She gained fame as Florida's secretary of state - certifying her state's vote totals in the ultra-contentious 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore.

Now, Republican Katherine Harris is running for Congress, and political analysts believe the only thing that can stop her is a lawsuit filed by another GOP candidate claiming Harris violated a state campaign registration law.

"If she was running statewide in Florida ... she would probably be in big trouble and there would be money flowing in and credible Democratic candidates running against her," said Adam Smith, political editor of The St. Petersburg Times newspaper.

As it is, Harris is running in her own district, Florida's 13th, where she's well known and well liked, and the Democratic candidates running against her are rookies, Smith said.

"The only chance she could be in trouble is if the lawsuit goes anywhere," he said.

John Hill, Harris' opponent for the Republican nomination in the Sept. 10 primary, said Harris violated a state law by failing to file a timely letter of intent to resign as secretary of state when she qualified to run for Congress.

Harris resigned Aug. 1, two weeks after the time the law requires, publicly stating she misunderstood the resignation letter rules.

If the suit was successful, Hill, a Vietnam veteran and a former Sarasota television anchor, would automatically win the Republican nomination.

Harris said the suit had no merit, however. "Anybody with $5 and a map to the courthouse can file a frivolous lawsuit," she said in a statement. "It is a shame Mr. Hill is wasting taxpayer dollars."

John Zogby, an independent pollster, said the incident could be damaging to Harris, however. As arbiter of Florida's election laws in 2000, Harris called a halt to the counting of disputed votes and the controversy over how to read punch-card ballots, certifying a victory for George Bush in the presidential election.

"Here is a person who was in charge of the electoral process and is seemingly one who should know the rules," Zogby said.

"It also creates an opening for the other side to say, 'Wow, if that's how closely she's paying attention to her own campaign, then let's revisit 2000,'" he added.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the flap also could have negative repercussions for Republican candidates in the state in November.

"It gives Democrats a hook to remind minorities statewide about the problems in 2000, thereby potentially increasing minority turnout in November in other districts," Sabato said.

As secretary of state, Harris was clearly in charge of administering election law; when she resigned, she was obliged to admit her mistake, "and you wouldn't expect the secretary of state to make that kind of error," Sabato said.

"Will it have an impact? No. That district is heavily Republican and she is the near-certain winner," he added.

Rep. Dan Miller (R-Fla.) is retiring from the heavily Republican 13th Congressional District in central Florida after five terms.

Florida Governor's Race

The flap also embarrassed Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who faces a considerable challenge from Democratic contenders Janet Reno, a former U.S. attorney general, and Bill McBride, a combat decorated Marine and a businessman.

While Reno is favored to win the Democratic nomination, which also will be held Sept. 10, analysts said McBride's campaign is gaining steam.

"McBride apparently has some key endorsements waiting for the final week or so prior to the primary," Sabato said. "He's hoping for a late break to him. It's not a probability but it is a possibility that he could upset her. He would be a stronger candidate than she obviously is against Bush in the fall, but Bush, I think, would still be favored against either one," he said.

E-mail a news tip to Lawrence Morahan.

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