The other day I was invited to attend a Meet-and-Greet for Karen Harrington, the woman who got 39 percent of the vote against Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the 2010 Congressional election. Her gadfly performance in that contest forced DWS to spend two million dollars she would rather have kept in her war chest. Still, at the time no one really believed DWS could be defeated. Voting for Karen was more in the way of a gesture. Seeing the grass-roots energy at this gathering, I could actually imagine the seemingly impossible: Harrington might actually win Florida District 20.
Participants were clearly told this was not a fundraiser. It was directed at Jewish residents of the district. The redrawing of the district had increased the proportion of Jewish Democrats in the area, a cause for concern to any Republican candidate. I wondered how many people would show up to meet Karen at this middle-class residence. This atmosphere was a far cry from Democrat events, usually held in posh elitist surroundings.
People came in droves. Without being asked, they were all slipping envelopes to the candidate. The vibe in the room was excited and enthusiastic. Every so often I would hear the name of DWS raised in conversation and it would inevitably be drowned out by a hiss of disdain.
The anti-DWS sentiment was palpable. Folks were getting a huge kick out of Karen’s secondary website, firedebbie.com, which features a photograph of Barack Obama and DWS smooching while the national debt is increasing on a mobile graphic in the background. Milling around with a drink and an hors d’oeuvre, I heard and overheard a litany of complaints against DWS. Prime among those grievances was the perception that she does nothing but parrot talking points, never adding an original thought or insight on any matter of substance.
Ms. Harrington was introduced by the hostess and she delivered a homey homily about her background and her objectives. Her parents moved to South Florida from the Boston area when she was a teenager with little more than the shirts on their backs. They worked hard to build up a family concern which includes a chain of three restaurants. Karen was until recently an executive in the business her Dad founded.
Now as a successful businesswoman, wife and mother, she has become motivated to fight in the public sphere for the restoration of American Constitutional values. She makes a lovely impression and articulates her views well. Her campaign chair is Cruz Bustamente, the man who managed Marco Rubio’s successful run for the U.S. Senate. His instincts told him that it would be wise for Harrington to campaign statewide, because DWS is such a lightning rod in Florida and national politics. This has expanded Harrington’s fund-raising reach significantly, with money coming from the rest of the state at a pace not far behind that of her own potential constituents.
She has become a fiery backer of Israel, even delivering the keynote address at the annual dinner of the Hebron Fund, a very politically incorrect group that believes in restoring all of Biblical Israel to the sole possession of the Jewish People. This kind of fearless backing of conservative causes has prompted locals to make the inevitable comparisons to Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. The latter has actively endorsed her.
Technically she is not yet the Republican candidate, until after the primary on August 14. One of her opponents in that contest is Joe Kaufman, an old friend of mine who used to be the producer of the nationally syndicated G. Gordon Liddy Show on radio. She is adopting the strategy of ignoring the primary and focusing on DWS, as her success last time presupposes the likelihood of her being given another shot by the voters.
She made news last week by challenging DWS to release her tax returns, in the wake of Wasserman-Schultz noisily backing Harry Reid’s call for Governor Romney to do that. DWS tries to pretend Harrington does not exist and acts as if she will be free to spend her campaigning time on helping defeat Allen West, with whom she shares a mutually consuming passionate hate affair. After seeing Harrington in action up close, methinks that DWS may have a real fight on her own hands. Fire Debbie, eh? Not a bad idea.