Still, he never gloated about executions or mentioned them in ads. He now says he simply believes that some crimes demand the ultimate sanction, and that capital punishment is a deterrent: "We had, what, 20-plus executions? Any time you sign a death warrant on another human being, you do it with a great deal of sadness." In fact, Graham had 16 executions, an odd fact for such a detail-oriented man to forget.
Today, Graham is one of the most popular politicians in Florida history. He's known as a successful governor, an excellent consensus-builder, an unusually nice man for a politician. He's never lost an election. He's never been embroiled in a scandal. He's enjoyed support from environmentalists and sugar barons, Cubans and Jews, retirees and college students. Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and Al Gore all considered him as a running mate. Al Cardenas, former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, complains that half the state's top GOP fundraisers raise money for Graham as well. "He's a very decent man," Cardenas concedes. "He's got real integrity."
He's deeply in love with his 10 grandkids, who call Adele and him -- warn the consultants! -- Deedle and Doodle. And he's got a sense of humor. He's played a corpse in a dinner theater and sung with Jimmy Buffett at a media dinner. When humorist Dave Barry asked him about America's "accordion-repair crisis," Graham promptly pledged to prepare anti-dumping orders against Liechtenstein, and warned that "I don't know whether the actual use of nuclear weapons is called for, but I do think we need a credible military threat."
Regardless of his likability, Graham has not been a prominent Washington player since joining the Senate in 1987. He's worked hard on Medicare, immigration, drug interdiction and other key Florida issues, and he helped drive an $8 billion Everglades restoration plan, but his legislative record is pretty thin.
His one foray into national politics -- leading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 1994 election cycle -- ended with the Democrats losing the Senate. And while his peers respect his intelligence, diligence and willingness to work across party lines, some of them think he's a bit of a dork. He wears a tie with the state of Florida on it every single day, although he's planning to drop the habit once he starts his presidential campaign. And his stump speeches can be pedantic snoozers. Gore campaign aides still joke about a disastrous stemwinder Graham delivered at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon; he lost the crowd early, droned on anyway, and killed any slim chance he might have had to join the ticket.
Then there are the notebooks.
Graham was mocked relentlessly as an obsessive-compulsive in 2000 after he showed one to Time magazine, which introduced America to such mundane entries as: "8:45-9:35 -- Kitchen, family room. Eat breakfast, branola cereal with peach." Graham is genuinely puzzled why his notebooks have become a Beltway punch line. He sees them as low-tech Palm Pilots, indispensable for recording constituent concerns and keeping track of his day-to-day doings -- just as his dad used to jot down which fence needed mending and which cow seemed weak. "I could make a better case that this is eccentric," he says, pointing to his Florida tie. Unprompted, he hands over his current notebook, proving if nothing else that the jokes have not persuaded him to adjust his all-the-facts style:
"7:15 -- Awake at 3STTH. [That's his Capitol Hill townhouse.]
"7:15-7:35 -- read 'John Adams' on the importance of an independent judiciary -- dress in dark grey suit
"8:00 -- Kitchen -- eat breakfast (Smart Start cereal and raisins)."
Graham's notebook on September 11, 2001, did not record what he ate for breakfast. It did not even record whom he met for breakfast, but that's because the meeting was supposed to be highly classified. His mystery guest was Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, the shadowy director of Pakistan's intelligence service who would be fired a few weeks later for his cozy relationship with the Taliban. But this was still the last hour of the Era of Before. Graham's log began: "8:05 -- Issues re Afghanistan."
Graham wasn't even supposed to be on the intelligence committee at the time, much less the chairman. Senators are only supposed to serve eight years on the committee, and Graham was in his ninth. After the 2000 elections, Democrats were left with no one else with intelligence experience to be their ranking member, so Minority Leader Tom Daschle granted Graham an extension.
In June, James Jeffords of Vermont tipped the Senate to the Democrats, and Graham took over the committee. His first foreign trip as chairman, a late-August journey with House intelligence Chairman Goss and Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, focused almost entirely on terrorism. It ended in Pakistan, where Gen. Ahmed's intelligence agents briefed them on the growing threat of al Qaeda while they peered across the Khyber Pass at a then-obscure section of Afghanistan. It was called Tora Bora. The trio also visited Ahmed's compound and urged him to do more to help capture Osama bin Laden. The general hadn't said much, but the group had agreed to discuss the issue more when he visited Washington.
So on September 11, they all reconvened in a top-secret conference room on the fourth floor of the U.S. Capitol. According to Graham's copious notes, they discussed "poppy cultivation" before they discussed terrorism. But then the Americans pressed Ahmed even harder to crack down on al Qaeda. "Ahmed kept explaining why from his perspective that was very difficult to do," Kyl recalls. Graham's notes recount the general's take on the Taliban's mind-set -- "focused on hereafter, whether their current life will assure eternal glory" -- before the discussion drifted to Pakistani nuclear policy:
"deterrence, not 'bomb for bomb.' not expanding. why? policy, economic restraints, moratorium on testing."
"9:04 -- Tim gives note on 2 planes crash into World Trade Center, NYC."
And then? Graham finished his notes about nuclear policy.
"Pak.-India. from parity in 1965 . . . "
The meeting broke up, and Graham walked out to the East Lawn of the Capitol. "The first stage was one of befuddlement," he acknowledges. "That was probably the worst possible place to be, if that fourth plane was headed towards us."
Graham then headed to his hideaway office near the Senate floor, and asked a staffer to call the cloakroom to see if there would be votes that morning. But the U.S. Capitol Police were already evacuating the building. The Era of After had begun.
Before September 11, Graham spent 10 hours a week on intelligence work, and terrorism was one of his top priorities. He had tried to push the CIA to focus much harder on human intelligence, but nobody had paid much attention. After September 11, intelligence took over his life, and terrorism was his only priority. He and Goss headed up a high-profile House-Senate investigation into intelligence failures, and issued a surprisingly harsh, bipartisan report. He became a mini-celebrity on the Sunday talk-show circuit, making two dozen appearances last year, more than any other member of Congress. He still sounded responsible and measured -- in truth, he often sounded a bit boring -- but he was increasingly worried by his briefings.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Speaking of the risk of terrorism, Sen. Bob Graham says. "The gun is still loaded."
(Photograph by Grant Delin)