The White House is pulling back on any support it might have had for Rep. Mark Foley's candidacy in next year's Florida Senate race, seemingly setting up the possibility that it will attempt to woo rookie Rep. Katherine Harris, the state's former secretary of state, to run instead. Foley, who has been successfully fundraising in Washington and in Florida, was viewed as a preferred candidate over former Rep. Bill McCollum, who lost in his Senate bid in 2000 to replace retiring senator Connie Mack.
McCollum has the organization in place to run again. But first the White House and Sen. George Allen, the key Senate candidate recruiter, focused their attention on HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, a former Orange County, Florida pol. But Martinez took a pass.
"We may still prevail with Martinez," says a hopeful RNC staffer. "There is still some time. We'd prefer someone who can excite voters, and McCollum underwhelms. We know that. There are also some concerns about Foley's experience and ability to run a statewide campaign."
Foley, though, has been raising money at a decent clip, and has been lining up support across the state.
The Republicans are pressing for a strong candidate because they expect that Bob Graham will not seek re-election, instead focusing his money and time on a presidential bid. Harris, who ran for the House after being recruited by the White House, would be an attractive candidate and, with statewide office experience, would have the name recognition and money connections to make a race of things.
"She was tabbed a star the first day she arrived in Washington in January, and she hasn't done anything to change anyone's mind," says the RNC staffer. House leadership is said to be impressed with Harris's abilities and plans to put her out to represent the party during the economic stimulus package fight to see how she handles the press attention.
Harris has not indicated she would run for the Senate, although if the White House asked, she probably wouldn't turn the offer down.
North Carolina Rep. Richard Burr pulled in more than $700,000 at a fundraiser last week attended by Karl Rove. According to Burr insiders, he expects to have more than $10 million in the bank for the general election in 2004, whether it is against sitting Sen. John Edwards or another Democratic challenger.
Burr has surprised Democrats down south with his fundraising momentum, and even Edwards appears to have noticed. He remains unsure about whether he should empty his Senate campaign account, which has more than $2 million in it. "He still may run for his seat. He hasn't said he won't," says an Edwards Senate staffer. "We're proceeding as though he will be elected to a second term."
Burr's strength may weaken Edward's resolve to take his presidential bid beyond the initial primaries, in part because while he's viewed as a strong presidential candidate, he isn't expected to win the nomination. "If nothing else, Burr is going to make it tough for Edwards to focus on just the presidential race," says an RNC staffer who is doing some work with Burr. "We think we can win this race, whether it's Edwards or someone else."
Burr is expected to rake in even more cash since he is clearly the White House pick in North Carolina, and he isn't expected to have a challenger in the Republican primary.
Gov. Jeb Bush knows who to pay attention to. He was invited to attend Saturday's White House Correspondents' dinner, but took a pass to attend a dinner with people more to his liking: He stayed in Florida and hung with the National Rifle Association's convention.
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