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Harris' Senate drive loses finance director

Just as her wobbly campaign for the Senate appeared to be steadying itself, Katherine Harris lost her finance director.

Mike Miller, a veteran Republican fundraiser, resigned Friday. He is the second finance director to leave the Harris campaign since she started running to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, but Miller said his departure is purely for personal reasons.

"I want to be a dad and husband first," he said. He said he came to realize in November that the campaign required too much time away from his wife and two young children.

"I don't want Katherine to be affected by this," he said, "but I understand with her track record there's no way for me to leave without some questions being raised."

Harris' campaign has been hobbled by skepticism among leading Republicans about her ability to win, as well as weak fundraising. In December, Harris hired Anne Dunsmore and her California company, Capital Campaigns, to lead a national fundraising effort.

"We're thankful for all Mike has done, but Anne is setting up her own team, her own structure," said campaign spokeswoman Morgan Dobbs, who, like Miller, downplayed his departure.

Miller's decision comes shortly after campaign treasurer Nancy Watkins of Tampa left. Watkins is among the most respected campaign finance experts in Florida and with her husband Robert raised more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004. She declined to comment Wednesday, but Dobbs said Dunsmore is putting her own team in place.

In recent weeks, the campaign appeared to be finding its footing. Harris raised more than $1-million in the final three months of 2005 (though she still trails well behind Nelson), and high-profile Republicans including Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Mel Martinez publicly embraced her candidacy in January.

Last week President Bush acknowledged her candidacy.

"I want to thank Mel (Martinez) for standing strong with the administration, with me when it came time to ratify and confirm judges who would strictly interpret the Constitution, judges like Judge (John) Roberts and Judge (Samuel) Alito. And it would sure be nice to have two United States senators who would confirm conservative judges," the president said. "To that end, I welcome congresswoman Katherine Harris."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or adam@spttmes.com.

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