Katherine Harris wins Florida GOP primary


U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris overcame a campaign ridiculed even by her own party to easily claim the GOP nomination for the Senate on Tuesday, and Rep. Jim Davis won the Democratic nomination to succeed popular Gov. Jeb Bush.

Harris next faces an uphill battle against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, who had no primary challenger.

"Tonight is great victory for our party and for Florida," Harris said. "It’s a great victory because it shows each of us we can overcome adversity to achieve extraordinary victories."

Davis won a concession from state Sen. Rod Smith, who trailed 47 percent to 41 percent with 96 percent of precincts reporting. Davis’ opponent in November will be Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, who claimed the Republican nomination to replace Bush.

Crist had 64 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Tom Gallagher, the state’s chief financial officer.

Harris had 49 percent of the vote against three relative unknowns with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Attorney Will McBride ran second at 30 percent, and retired Navy admiral LeRoy Collins had 15 percent.

As Florida secretary of state six years ago, Harris oversaw the recount that gave George W. Bush the White House. She became a rising star in the Republican Party, parlaying name recognition into two terms in Congress.

But state GOP leaders tried to talk Harris out of running for the Senate, citing fears she would lose to Nelson while spurring a large November turnout by Democrats, which would hurt the entire Republican ticket.

Harris’ campaign for the nomination was widely derided as spectacularly inept. Fundraising lagged, prompting her to pledge $10 million of her own money. Her makeup, clothes and personality were mocked on national TV. She was linked to a corrupt defense contractor. And staff members kept quitting in frustration.

Still, she won comfortably, thanks to weak opposition and a strong base of Republicans who loved her because of her role in the recount furor.

Some 2 1/2 hours after the polls closed, the 49-year-old congresswoman arrived at her Tampa campaign headquarters to chants of "We want Katherine."

"Tonight I say to Bill Nelson: Come home, Bill. Enough is enough," Harris said. She said the campaign "can’t rest for even a moment."

Nelson didn’t address Harris’ win directly but said in a statement, "I look forward to … spending the next six years continuing to fight for the people of Florida in the United States Senate."

Despite a handful of late openings at polling places, the primary appeared to be debacle-free, with no problems reported to rival the troubled elections in 2000 and 2002. Rainy weather in South Florida and other parts of the state was expected to reduce turnout figures.

"The primary election in Florida today ran very smoothly," state Division of Elections spokesman Sterling Ivey said.

State Sen. Skip Campbell easily won the Democratic nomination for attorney general over a little-known lawyer who did not campaign. Bill McCollum was unopposed for the Republican nomination.

Senate President Tom Lee won the Republican nomination for chief financial officer, setting up a November race with Democrat Alex Sink.

The Democratic race for governor tightened in recent days, but Smith fell short in his bid for a come-from-behind victory.

Largely unknown when he entered the race, Smith touted his pro-agriculture positions and law enforcement background as a former state attorney. Davis dogged Smith about his connections to big sugar, repeatedly pointing out how U.S. Sugar Corp. spent millions of dollars to fund attack ads.

Davis spoke to supporters in Tampa shortly after Smith phoned to concede.

"With all the talk of sugar in the news, let me say how sweet it is," Davis said. "It’s time to change direction, and tonight is a new beginning."

Davis, considered the more liberal, pro-environment candidate, relied heavily on big-name endorsements. He spent the final weekend campaigning with well-respected former Sen. Bob Graham (news, bio, voting record).

Crist campaigned as a champion of consumer causes and Bush’s policies — at least when it came to crime, taxes and education. But Crist criticized the governor’s decision to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case, and said he wouldn’t try to change the class-size limits that the governor has opposed.

A roar went up in Crist’s hotel suite in St. Petersburg when he told family and supporters The Associated Press had declared him the winner.

"It’s wonderful, wonderful news," Crist said. "All I want to be is the people’s governor, and they should rest assured that if they elect me in November, no one will fight harder for the people."

Bush, brother of the president, must step down because of term limits.