Cheney Mum About GOP Senate Candidate

Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., shown here in a Nov. 2, 2004, file photo taken in Sarasota, Fla., said Tuesday, June 7, 2005, she will run for the U.S. Senate next year against Democrat Bill Nelson AP

When Vice President Dick Cheney went campaigning in Florida on Monday, there were two words conspicuous by their absence: Katherine Harris.

"As vice president, I look forward to the opportunity to swear in a new Republican senator to serve next to Mel Martinez in the United States Senate," Cheney said during a re-election luncheon for Rep. Clay Shaw in Boca Raton. He didn't mention Harris, a Florida Congresswoman who's regarded as the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in November.

Later Monday, speaking to a crowd of Collier County Republicans in Naples — and with Harris in the audience — Cheney again avoided mentioning her.

Cheney's failing to name Harris specifically as that "new senator" at a pair of events is triggering questions about the condition of Harris' campaign.

Last week, Harris responded to claims that she had accepted campaign funds in 2004 that were illegally donated through embroiled defense contractor Mitchell Wade. On March 2, Harris released a statement saying she was unaware that accepting contributions associated with Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribery in the Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., case, was illegal.

Wade said that at a 2005 dinner with Harris, the two discussed a possible fundraiser for her as well as obtaining funding for a Navy counterintelligence program involving his company. The plan also called for a location in Harris' district.

Harris explained that she "requested a $10 million appropriation for the U.S Naval Criminal Investigative Services project" because she thought "it would bring new jobs to Sarasota.

"I never requested funding for this project in exchange for any contributions, but rather to bring more high-skill, high-wage jobs to the region," she insisted.

In an apparent effort to scale back her public appearances during the controversy, Harris canceled a number of campaign stops, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported. GOP consultant David Johnson told the paper that, "It looks like her campaign is circling the wagons."

But spokesperson Morgan Dobbs denies that Harris is slowing down or plans to leave the race, telling CBSNews.com that Harris "remains undaunted in her quest to represent the people and issues she cares about most in the United States Senate."

In a Quinnipiac University poll released in late February, Harris trailed Nelson by 53 percent to 31 percent.

It's not certain whether Cheney's failure to mention Harris by name was a deliberate attempt to distance himself and the GOP from her as she is entangled in scandal, or simply an unintentional oversight

"Cheney is not the most skilled campaigner when it comes to retail politics," Hotline senior editor John Mercurio says, adding that the non-mention of Harris "doesn't necessarily reflect Republican sentiments" toward her.

However, Mercurio points out, "things couldn't possibly be going worse" for Harris, and there may be "reluctance on the part of the White House to say Katherine Harris will be the next senator because her campaign is in disarray."

The fact that Cheney left Harris out of his speech is "in and of itself not significant," Mercurio explains, but the perception of it seems to be.

When asked how Harris reacted to being omitted from Cheney's comments, Dobbs noted that Harris was at the Naples event with the Vice President and that she rode back to Washington with him on Air Force 2. "It is always an honor to be invited to appear with the Vice President of the United States," Dobbs added.

  • Jennifer Hoar

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