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Fla. Senate: Is There a GOP Alternative to Harris?

As Rep. Katherine Harris's (R) Senate campaign continues to disintegrate, Republicans are divided over whether they need to find someone to challenge her in the Sept. 5 primary.

Memories of 2000 ... Democrats would love for Republicans to nominate Rep. Katherine Harris to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson this year. (Orlando Sentinel photo via AP)

Over the weekend Harris lost several more key members of her staff, including her campaign manager and communications director, departures that leave her with virtually no paid staff. (The exodus was first reported by the St. Petersburg Times on March 25.)

Harris sent an e-mail on Saturday insisting she has already hired a full complement of new staffers -- although she did not provide any names. Hotline's On Call blog is reporting that Harris is bringing in the members of Wilson-Grand Communications to serve as media consultants and manage the campaign.

While almost every Republican we've spoken to over the past few days is resolved that Harris can't defeat incumbent Bill Nelson (D), there isn't a clear consensus of whether she can now be beaten in the GOP primary and whether any serious candidate will file against her before the May 12 deadline.

Asked whether the Florida Republican Party is still behind Harris or trying to recruit someone else into the race, communications director Jeff Sadosky was circumspect. "Right now Katherine Harris is the only Republican candidate in the race to unseat Bill Nelson so we are supportive to that end," said Sadosky. A ringing endorsement that ain't.

So, if not Harris, who?

* Rep. Mark Foley: Foley has made no secret that he is interested in a Senate bid but continues to wait in hopes that the movers and shakers in both Florida and Washington give him some sort of signal that they would be with him if he decided to run. No such indication from on high has come, according to a sources close to Foley. Foley has been down this road before. He was considered the leading contender for the open seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham (D) in 2004 but bowed out in September 2003 citing his father's ill health. During that abbreviated campaign, Foley had been forced to hold a conference call with reporters denying an alternative newspaper report about his sexual orientation.

* Florida State House Speaker Allan Bense: Bense was heavily courted to challenge Harris by state and national Republican leaders last fall but ultimately decided against the contest in September. Bense remains an appealing candidate to many Republicans because he has some amount of personal wealth, which, at this late date, is considered an absolute necessity if a candidate wants to beat Harris. And he comes from the state's Panhandle -- an area where Nelson has traditionally been able to blunt what should be a major GOP advantage. Bense's office did not return a call seeking comment.

* Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings: Christa Campbell, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush, said Monday that Jennings is "not considering a run." Long expected to run for governor, Jennings instead looks likely to simply finish out her LG term.

* Retired Army General Tommy Franks: Franks, along with outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush, is seen as a dream candidate for Republicans but does not appear interested in running. Franks, who led the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, lives part-time in Tampa.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 4, 2006; 4:50 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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