Questions Dog Harris Behavior

The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - Changing locks on her campaign headquarters and accusing her staff of disloyalty and her own party of spying on her are signs of erratic behavior that some Katherine Harris staff members say has worsened since her father's death.

Harris is restaffing her campaign and will announce new key staff members today, a campaign spokeswoman said Monday.

But in the past 10 days, Harris has:

•Had locks changed and posted a security guard at the door of her campaign headquarters in Tampa and had former staff members escorted in to retrieve their belongings.

•Told a gathering of supporters in Cocoa Beach on Saturday that the Republican Party had "infiltrated" her campaign staff to put "knives in my back."

•Told a reporter that a longtime, trusted political adviser had leaked a story about her staff members quitting, then called back to retract the comments.

•Announced hiring her new staff without identifying them.

Those events come atop previous reversals and contradictions, including her announcement last month that she would spend her inheritance from her father on her campaign, which she changed, saying she would sell her assets.

Former campaign manager Jim Dornan, who left in November, called the most recent events in the campaign "unbelievable."

"It smacks of real paranoia," he said of the headquarters lockout and comments about infiltration. "That campaign staff was so loyal to her, and to be treated like that is absolutely unconscionable."

In interviews over the past few weeks, speaking in confidence, former employees from Harris' congressional and campaign staffs said the trauma of the unexpected death of her father has taken a toll.

"She's in total meltdown. The campaign is in chaos," said a longtime Republican operative who worked closely with Harris until recently. "She hasn't mourned for her father." Like many other former staff members interviewed, that GOP operative didn't want to be quoted by name.

Many now seek other political jobs and don't want to publicly criticize a candidate they have worked for.

Over the weekend, the last of Harris' top staff members left the campaign, including campaign manager Jamie Miller, general consultant Ed Rollins, spokeswoman Morgan Dobbs and field director Megan Ortagus.

Media consultant Adam Goodman, who has worked with Harris through her political career, left a few days earlier. That followed the departures of pollster Ed Goeas, fundraiser Anne Dunsmore, Dornan, treasurer Nancy Watkins, two finance staff members and others.

On March 25, in comments to an Orlando Sentinel reporter, Harris blamed Goodman for leaking a story about her staff turnover. She called the newspaper back within hours to retract the statement.

In a statement Saturday announcing the hiring of new top staff members, she said, "Our campaign has re-launched with a new staff and is moving forward quickly. ... We are stronger as a campaign today than we were yesterday."

Dornan, who left the campaign after disagreements with Harris, said, "How she can say that her campaign is better is beyond me, when she had the best people in the country."

Harris' comments Saturday in Cocoa Beach reflect the antagonism between her and the Republican Party. Some party leaders have been downright hostile to her campaign because of worries that she can't beat incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and that her reputation would stoke turnout by Democrats eager to defeat her.

According to Florida Today, she told a gathering of Republicans, "I didn't know I was going to get the knives in my back from my own party, and I'll be honest, it's infiltrated my campaign staff."

She added, "For too long, we have been undermined by people in our own party and staffers in our own campaign."

The newspaper also quoted Harris as saying, "I was told if I didn't get out of the race, I would have an April surprise," meaning a negative event for her campaign.

The Tribune asked to speak to Harris on Monday about the statements but got no response.

Meanwhile, former staffers were coming to the office to retrieve belongings. Receptionist Donna Alicoate said Miller was escorted into the office Saturday after locks were changed and a guard posted.

On Monday, campaign volunteer Art Burroughs, outside the entrance to Harris' West Shore Boulevard office, said he was doing "just a little bit of a security thing" in escorting former staffers inside for belongings.

Campaign scheduler Jennifer DeBord said the new staff members would be announced today.

Harris said in a statement Saturday she had hired a campaign manager, fundraiser, advertising consultants, pollster, field director and press secretary. But campaign spokesman Brian Brooks said Monday a pollster has not been hired.

Burroughs is the brother of Dale Burroughs, a spiritual counselor and friend of Harris who, aides say, frequently travels with Harris on the campaign trail and sometimes introduces her at campaign stops.

Harris has been known for high turnover of employees in her congressional and campaign staffs and for her tendency to lose her temper in dealing with employees. Since winning her congressional seat in 2002, she has gone through several chiefs of staff and communications directors.

Former staff members cite three events they say have exacerbated those tendencies: her father's death in January; her being linked indirectly to a bribery scandal involving illegal campaign contributions; and her decision to put $10 million of her own money into her campaign.