Florida's Graham Won't Run Again for Senate
Party's Chances of Regaining Control Sag as Fourth Southern Democrat Bows Out
By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2003; Page A02
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who dropped out of the race for the White House last month, announced yesterday that he will not seek a fourth term in the Senate next year, further dimming Democrats' chances of winning back control of the chamber.
"This has been a very difficult decision for me and my family, and I know for some of you it has been a disappointment," Graham told supporters at a Tallahassee high school on one of his "work days" -- in which he has bagged groceries, weighed fish and spun records at a Haitian radio station over the past 25 years.
But he said he intends to continue pursuing some of his abiding interests, including job creation, antiterrorism efforts, environmental protection and creation of an institute to help train Florida's future leaders. "These are the things that excite me, that inspire me and to which I am convinced I can better contribute as a private citizen," said Graham, who is 67 and had major heart surgery in January, delaying his entry into the presidential campaign.
Graham is the fourth southern Democratic senator to announce plans to retire next year, leaving their states without a strong incumbent to help fend off growing GOP strength in the region, which Republicans hope will be bolstered by President Bush's reelection campaign.
Others who have said they will not run again next year are Zell Miller (Ga.), John Edwards (N.C.) and Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.). In addition, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has not said whether he will run again.
When Graham abandoned his presidential bid Oct. 6, saying he had come to the conclusion he could not win, he left open the possibility of running again for the Senate. But Democrats were braced for yesterday's decision, even as they tried to persuade Graham to run again.
Although his presidential bid cost him some support for reelection to the Senate, he was regarded as a strong favorite if he ran again. With Graham out, the Florida race becomes a "tossup,"said Jennifer E. Duffy, who monitors Senate contests for the Cook Political Report.
As for prospects for a Democratic takeover of the 100-member Senate, where Republicans hold 51 seats, "the hill just got steeper," Duffy said.
Graham came to the Senate after defeating Sen. Paula Hawkins (R) in a grueling campaign in 1986. He had been in politics nearly all of his adult life, being elected to the state Legislature in 1966 and serving two terms as governor, from 1979 to 1987. He never lost an election.
In the Senate, he made his mark as a southern moderate who championed some of his party's major causes, including a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients, which passed both houses this year and is being whipped into final form by House and Senate negotiators. But he also challenged Democratic orthodoxy -- and the conventional political wisdom for a Floridian -- by supporting such controversial steps as reducing Medicare benefits for wealthier people.
He supported tough anti-crime legislation and championed several environmental initiatives, including legislation to protect the Everglades.
Graham became chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence in mid-2001 when Democrats took control of the Senate. When terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a few months later, the panel and Graham were in the forefront of Congress's response.
He became increasingly critical of the government's efforts to prevent terrorism. Last fall, he voted against the resolution authorizing war against Iraq, calling it too limited. He had successfully proposed an amendment authorizing action against Hezbollah and four other terrorist groups as well as Saddam Hussein's government.
Graham also had his quirky side. A methodical man, he records all meetings, meals and other mundane daily events in a collection of notebooks that now number in the thousands.
Both parties have a full roster of possible candidates for Graham's seat, although none has established front-runner status.
The declared or likely Democratic candidates include Reps. Peter Deutsch and Alcee L. Hastings, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, and former state education commissioner Betty Castor. All had said they would run only if Graham did not. Republicans include former representative Bill McCollum, who lost to Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in last year's race; state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd; state Sen. Daniel Webster; and legal activist Larry Klayman.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company