TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has publicly abandoned Rep. Katherine Harris, stating she could not possibly defeat incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in November. The governor’s comments came on the same day his brother, President George W. Bush, made a swing through the state in support of the government’s prescription drug plan.

“I just don’t think she (Harris) can win,” Gov. Bush said at the Capitol on May 8, according to The Associated Press. He noted that polls show Harris running about 30 points behind Nelson.

Harris has been dogged by high staff turnover and her acceptance of $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions from defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribing former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).

Harris gained notoriety when she served as Florida’s secretary of state. As the chief elections official in Florida, her decisions were central in securing the awarding of the state’s electoral votes to George W. Bush in 2000. Her decision enraged thousands of Floridians who felt they had been disenfranchised, and brought the term “pregnant chad” into widespread use as well as derision.

While some are shocked by Bush’s estimate of Harris’ prospects, it has long been known that her senate bid was in trouble. What is more shocking is Bush’s statement that Florida is a “purple” state.

“Florida voters are pretty sophisticated,” Bush said. “They discern the issues well. We’re a purple state. Democrats can win. Republicans can win. I don’t think anybody can take anything for granted.”

Since 2000, the Florida Democratic Party has had a rough time. The Republican Party has flexed its muscle in both the state Legislature and in the county positions they control. But recent months have seen a growing anger among Floridians.

High gas prices are having a tremendous impact here, as they are elsewhere. Homeowners, many of them senior citizens on fixed incomes, are facing unprecedented increases in homeowner’s insurance. Foreclosures are rising.

The much-touted Medicare Part D plan has been largely rejected, and voters are putting forward a ballot initiative that will remove redistricting from the hands of the GOP-controlled Legislature and place it into the hands of an independent commission.

Winds are shifting, local observers say.

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