U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said Friday she will not enter the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, but made clear that she plans to run in the future.
Harris, who as Florida secretary of state was praised and reviled for her role in the 2000 presidential recount, told a news conference in her hometown that her immediate focus would be seeking re-election to her seat in Congress.
"After careful deliberation, I am here to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate," Harris said to steady applause from about 75 supporters. "But just not yet this year."
As part of her agreement to stay out of this year's race, Harris will help the party raise money for President Bush and other Republicans while getting access to their donors, a Republican source said. That would allow her to build a large campaign account in preparation for running against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006.
"She's going to be profiled as the rising star in the Republican Party," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
As secretary of state, Harris oversaw the disputed count that gave George W. Bush a crucial 537-vote victory over Al Gore in Florida. President Bush's political advisers feared her candidacy would refresh memories of the re-count, generating a large turnout from angry Democrats and hurting the president's chances of carrying the state. Florida's 27 electoral votes are expected to be crucial in the presidential contest.
Harris has said she's been encouraged to seek retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham's seat, buoyed by favorable polls showing her as the early front-runner. A poll released last month by The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times found that Harris had the support of 29 percent of GOP voters, followed by former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum with 15 percent, and former U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez with 11 percent. Thirty-eight percent were undecided. The telephone survey of 800 registered voters had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Harris has long flirted with a Senate campaign. In July, she compared her chances of getting into the race to three bodies in the solar system aligning in a straight line a rare astrological phenomenon.
But when Graham announced in November he would not seek re-election, Harris called it a "blip on the radar screen" and reconsidered the campaign. Harris said she owed it to party activists throughout the state who had urged her to run.
Martinez said Harris has done a "good job" in Congress and denied he entered the race to avoid giving Democrats a figure to rally against.
"No one asked me to get into this thing to thwart her candidacy," he said in Orlando. "I have a lot of respect for her."
Her fame helped her amass nearly $3 million for her 2002 congressional campaign, even though she faced a weak Democratic opponent in a staunch GOP district. Through the end of the September fund-raising period, she had nearly $350,000 on hand, funds that could be transferred to a Senate race.
Democrats had expressed hope that Harris would enter the Senate race, arguing it would enhance fund-raising and focus more attention on the campaign.
"The race won't be the subject of Jay Leno and David Letterman. But I don't think that's going to change one way or the other what we are going to do," said Jeff Garcia, campaign manager for Democratic candidate Betty Castor.
Castor, a former state Education Commissioner, is running against U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas for the Democratic nomination.
Along with McCollum and Martinez, the field of Republicans includes former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City, state Sen. Daniel Webster of Winter Garden, former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith of Sarasota and Miami lawyer Larry Klayman.