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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 11:54 GMT
Profile: King-maker accused of bias
Katherine Harris
Fighter: Harris had bruising campaign
During a hard-fought campaign to become Florida's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris pledged, among other things, to restore integrity to Florida's elections.

Now she finds herself presiding over the state's undignified post-election scramble for votes, where integrity is being questioned as never before - and with the whole world watching.

But as the US's unofficial king-maker, Ms Harris is not just presiding over the row: she is being accused of fuelling it.

Bill Daley
Anger: Democrats' Daley accuses Harris of bias
Democrats say she is using her position of power to swing the result in favour of George W Bush, by clamping down on the hand recounts which Democrat Al Gore believes will boost his votes.

She was Mr Bush's campaign co-chairman in the state, and the Gore campaign has denounced her as a Bush crony; the Bush camp is four-square behind her.

A former real estate agent, Ms Harris had attracted controversy even before being thrust into the international spotlight.

She has faced attack from her political opponents over campaign funding she received from a Sarasota insurance company, Riscorp, when she stood for the Senate in 1994.

The company's executives were found guilty of illegally channeling money to dozens of Florida candidates.


No-one's ever been a pro-active secretary of state - and that's just what I would be

Katherine Harris before election
Ms Harris acknowledged receiving more than $20,000, but insisted she did not know the contributions were illegal.

She was not charged, and faced down her critics during the adverse publicity she received.

Ms Harris won the contest to become Florida's secretary of state after what was seen as a bruising campaign in 1998.

She and Democrat Karen Gievers traded attacks during television commercials as the campaign reached its climax.

But Ms Harris' earlier fight for the Republican nomination, ousting incumbent Sandra Mortham, was seen as an even more fiercely-fought affair - from which she emerged the clear winner.

As well as pledging to restore integrity to elections in the state, Ms Harris promised to boost local businesses, raise school standards and expand access to the arts.

'Passionate'

''No one's ever been a pro-active secretary of state,'' she said at the time, ''and that's just what I would be.

''It's not about climbing the ladder, it's that I always have been involved in and cared about these issues.

''It's all the things I've been so passionate about in my life.''

She had been a Florida senator for Sarasota for just four years before taking the top job.

Her grandfather was a wealthy citrus and cattle magnate from a well-known Florida family, but she insists that link has not helped her politically.

A former IBM marketing executive, she is married with a teenaged daughter.

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See also:

15 Nov 00 | Americas
Bush leads as wrangling goes on
14 Nov 00 | Americas
Behind the bias claims
14 Nov 00 | Americas
Absentee vote could hold the key
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