Graham Quits as Democratic Candidate
By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2003; Page A01
Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who sought unsuccessfully to capitalize on his vote-getting prowess in the state that decided the 2000 election, last night ended his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," Graham, the former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said he was becoming the first dropout from the 2004 contest because "I have made the judgment I cannot be elected."
Graham, 66, said a late start made it impossible to carve out support in a field that now numbers nine other contenders.
His decision had been rumored for several days. It leaves the way open for Graham to seek his fourth term in the Senate next year, and he said he would soon decide whether to run.
Several Republicans and Democrats have been positioning themselves to succeed him, but Graham never has lost an election in his home state. He served in the legislature and two terms as governor before being elected senator in 1986.
Graham had hoped that his Florida credentials would make him attractive to Democratic activists, many of whom blame Florida and its top Republican, Gov. Jeb Bush, for denying Al Gore the presidency in 2000. Graham told the Democratic National Committee members Saturday, in the final speech of his campaign, that he could guarantee a Florida victory in 2004, adding, "It won't take a 5 to 4 decision of the Supreme Court."
Strategists for several other Democratic hopefuls speculated last night that his early departure may improve Graham's chances of being picked for the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. He was considered for that role by Gore in 2000, and some have suggested that Gore would have won Florida without a contest had Graham been his running mate.
Leaving the door to the No. 2 spot wide open, Graham told King he was "prepared to do whatever I can to contribute to a Democratic victory next year."
He said he would not endorse another candidate at this time.
Graham announced his candidacy last May, after waiting months to recover from January surgery to replace a heart valve. He said last night that the surgery, the demands of his job as intelligence committee chairman and the public focus on the war with Iraq left him insufficient time to raise funds or build an organization that could sustain his candidacy.
Unlike the other three senators seeking the nomination, Graham voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq. Graham maintained that Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to the United States and warned that a military campaign would distract from the more important war against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Despite this record and a steady drumbeat of biting criticisms of the Bush administration's national security policies, Graham never was able to challenge the claim of early starting Howard Dean to the antiwar constituency.
He published a detailed pamphlet on his economic plans, joining the widespread Democratic criticism of the top-bracket tax cuts Bush had sponsored. But while he professed himself "outraged" by Bush's policies, his tone rarely conveyed any passion stronger than exasperation, and he seemed uncomfortable ad libbing, preferring to keep his eyes on his speech scripts. At his appearance Saturday before DNC members, Graham virtually apologized for not serving up the "raw meat" that an audience of partisans wanted.
He also struggled with fundraising, reportedly raising only about $2 million in the just-completed third quarter. He also trailed well behind Dean and the other leaders in the national polls.
Although Graham did not appear to have developed a large constituency, his withdrawal is viewed as a boon to several other candidates, who covet financial support from Florida and votes in South Carolina and other southern primaries. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and John Edwards (N.C.) and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a resident of Arkansas, may find more running room with Graham out of the race, observers said.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company