On the Bus with Katherine Harris
Elliott, Stephen, The Progressive
I got word that Representative Katherine Harris was going to do a bus tour. Her campaign was floundering, and she had just injected $3 million of her own money and hired a new staff from out of state. Officially, the three mil is a loan but it's not looking like she's going to get any return on that investment. The former secretary of state of Florida, the woman most responsible for George W. Bush's improbable victory in 2000, would not take a hint from Jeb or anyone else and drop out of the Senate race this November. So off I went on the bus.
Only two reporters showed up for the April bus tour, me and Bill Adair, the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times. It was a statement of how poorly things were going. I was surprised they even let me on but originally I was writing this for The Believer, and I think someone mistook that for a Christian magazine.
Anyway, by the time I arrived at the Tampa headquarters, it was pretty obvious they would take all comers. I think if Al Franken had expressed an interest they would have sat him right up front with the candidate. But nobody else was interested. People prefer to look to the future, and Katherine Harris is not the candidate who's going to be leading the Republican Party. I'm less interested in the future. I'm still picking up the pieces of the last two elections, figuring out what went wrong, hoping for the kind of closure that will allow me to get on with my life.
They loaded us in a van filled with soda pop and potato chips. Katherine drove ahead in a mobile home. We left for Inglis-Yankeetown, where the candidate addressed the Republican Party spaghetti dinner. These were old people, very old. They didn't come down on the 95 from New York. Instead they shuffled down the 75 from Michigan and Ohio and settled in the middle of the state where it was cheap and lonely. This was the corridor that won it for Bush in 2004.
Katherine told them we were going to keep our promises to seniors, to veterans. She talked about fixing the tax code. She said double taxing Social Security was wrong. She said her opponent, Bill Nelson, was an empty suit. She was given a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce, which she placed on the table but didn't eat.
She asked the audience to think about the challenges. "Could you imagine our security if AI Gore had been elected in 2000? Could you imagine what would have happened to our economy if John Kerry had been elected in 2004?"
She was starting to make me sad. I could imagine both of those things. I could imagine the $200 billion spent on a war with Iraq spent instead on education. I could imagine an America with serious partners and an agile military that wasn't bogged down in an unwinnable war and wasn't intent on forming a blockade around Iran.
But Katherine wasn't asking me to envision these things, and everybody else was eating. Then she switched to fear. Mentioned the recession that George Bush inherited, 9/11, two foreign wars, greedy corporate executives in New York, SARS, anthrax, avian flu. "That would have been enough to destroy most countries' economy," she said. "But not ours. Why? Tax relief."
She said our taxes are still too high. She said we have to protect our borders. "There are over 100,000 immigrants crossing our borders claiming asylum from different countries beside Mexico," she said. "We issue a card and tell them to come back in a couple of years for a court date. We have no idea where they are. Some of those Middle Easterners, and others, that cross the border," she continued, and then she paused. She may have recognized that she was headed down the road to some deeply offensive racist commentary, so she pulled herself back. "Anyone who cares about our death more than their own life is a serious threat. And so we have to make sure that we are protecting our borders."
But she assured everyone she still wanted Mexicans to come in and work in tourism and rebuild the houses after hurricanes. …