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Campaign Gone South

Katherine Harris
Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), right, with childhood friend Bill Braswell and his wife, Cathy, at a political rally in Florida. Harris hopes to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. (Cathy Kupulka - For The Washington Post)

Harris's public spats with Republican leaders and her own former staffers -- shorn of the niceties of political etiquette that typically surround such things -- have played out in the Florida newspapers like the autopsy of a political campaign. The skin is peeled back and everyone can see inside.

Several of her former staffers say they would have kept silent about goings-on in the Harris campaign if Harris herself had not publicly criticized them after they left, accusing them of being bad at their jobs, of putting "knives in my back" and of working with the Nelson campaign. They describe her as a micromanager, unable to trust her staff, prone to tears and rages over tiny things. They say she would rewrite speeches and press releases over and over. She would get upset if an aide hadn't brought her the correct coffee order from Starbucks. Dornan, the former campaign manager, says Harris was so concerned that only the best photographs of her went up on the campaign Web site that she insisted on going through every picture.

"It would be weeks and weeks and weeks before we could put anything up on the Web site," he says.

Dornan says he once infuriated Harris right before an event by setting it up so she could make a grand entrance. Instead, she wanted to greet supporters at the door as they arrived.

"She just goes completely ballistic," Dornan recalls. He says she yelled at him for 10 minutes and accused him of ruining her life. "I literally held the phone away from my ear, and everybody within a six-foot circle of me could hear her screaming."

Harris's former staffers say they worried about her health, especially after the death of her father earlier this year and the news that she was implicated in a bribery scandal with a federal contractor named Mitchell Wade, who had pleaded guilty to bribing former congressman Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.). (Wade admitted funneling $32,000 in illegal donations to Harris, but Harris has said she didn't realize the contributions were illegal and ultimately gave the money to charity.)

They worried about her clothes -- suit jackets and sweaters that were too tight, skirts that were too short. Rollins says an aide was dispatched to take her shopping for more senatorial apparel.

They worried about what one former field coordinator called her sense of "religious mission." Two former staffers -- Rollins and another onetime campaign manager, Jamie Miller -- have said Harris told them that God wanted her to be a senator. Rollins adds, "She told me that she thought she could be the first woman president."

Sitting in the livestock arena, Harris laughs at the notion she'd ever want to be president. In the past she told the Palm Beach Post that she was complimentary of those staffers who performed well, but had problems with those who would "try to undermine" her. Now, she sidesteps the question of why she had problems with staff.

"It's going to be easily explained in my book," she says. "We have a great staff now."

The Harris campaign has suffered a series of embarrassing gaffes. According to one Florida paper, her Web site listed endorsements from people who hadn't endorsed her. According to another paper, her campaign organized a rally in an airport hangar, but none of the nine officials named on her flier showed up.

In the spring, Harris announced on television she was putting $10 million of her inheritance from her father into the race. Later, she said it turned out the inheritance would not be available, so she'd put in her own money. Thus far, she has put in approximately $3.2 million, which is, she says, "everything that I have liquid."


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