Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.), a proven vote-getter in one of America's essential swing states, quietly entered the crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday, filing papers in Florida and Washington to set up a campaign committee.
Graham brings to the race one of the best-rounded resumes in politics: two successful terms as governor, five statewide victories in a populous, moderate state and leadership of his party's senatorial campaign committee. As chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, he spent last year warning the nation that the Bush administration is not doing enough to protect the homeland from terrorist attacks.
But Graham, the ninth Democrat to join the race, is widely viewed as getting a late start. Even more potentially damaging is his reason for delay: He is recuperating from major heart surgery performed Jan. 31.
In a telephone interview from his Washington townhouse, Graham, 66, said his recovery is going well. He said he is "following doctor's orders in terms of taking it easy and getting some exercise," and he is "very, very serious" about quickly filling his campaign bank account and hiring a staff.
Longtime friend and adviser Robin Gibson noted, though, that Graham still needs a green light for his doctors confirming that his double-bypass and heart-valve replacement surgery was a success. That determination will be made in a month or so.
"He feels a lot better, and that was one of the reasons he was ready to go ahead and open the campaign account," Gibson said. "This way, come mid-April, if the decision is to go he can step onto a moving train."
A healthy Graham could complicate life for several Democrats already in the race. His strength in Florida undercuts the popularity of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) in the Sunshine State, where Lieberman campaigned heavily as the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee.
Graham's roots on a dairy farm in the Old Confederacy erase the claim of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) to be the Southern candidate. His years as governor, and his vote against the Senate resolution authorizing war in Iraq, erode former Vermont governor Howard Dean's claim to be the one candidate with executive experience and a clear antiwar position.
No Democrat from north of the Mason-Dixon Line has won the White House since 1960. That's also the last time anyone from either party was elected without having been a governor or vice president.
Graham's biography and generally moderate positions have placed him for years on the list of possible Democratic presidential or vice presidential nominees. But somehow, the laconic senator has never quite pushed his way to the head of the line, and is perhaps best-known in professional political circles not for his campaign skills but for his unusual habit of documenting even the most mundane details of his life in small notebooks, color-coded by season.
His daughter and son-in-law filed papers at noon in Tallahassee to create "Bob Graham for President, Inc." and papers later were filed with the Federal Election Commission in Washington. While these steps permit Graham to begin making up lost time in building an organization, he said his most important work is "honing and focusing the message that is the whole reason for doing this."
That message, he said, will stress his experience and feature strong opposition to President Bush's actions in Iraq.
"I am the only candidate who was in a position to vote on the Iraq resolution who voted no," Graham said. He has criticized the move to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a distraction from more urgent threats posed by the al Qaeda terrorist network.
Graham said he will emphasize his credentials on education and the environment, and will call for a prescription drug benefit within a revamped Medicare system. He acknowledged that he will put a lot of energy into the South Carolina primary -- the first southern primary -- but insisted he will run strongly in earlier contests as well.
"I grew up on a farm and my family is still heavily involved in agriculture," Graham said. "So I think I will have something credible and personal to say to the farmers in Iowa," the first caucus state. "And I've taken a lot of moderate positions that will be appealing to independents" in the open primary state of New Hampshire.
A Graham confidante, Jacksonville accountant Samuel R. "Buddy" Shorstein, said yesterday that the senator believes there is plenty of time for him to get into the race.
"With world events where they are, none of the Democratic candidates are getting any traction," Shorstein said. "And until Iraq gets resolved, none of them will."
Bob Graham is the youngest child of a prominent and colorful Florida landowner, Ernest "Cap" Graham. With his two older half-brothers, he established a real estate development company that has gradually created a thriving suburb, Miami Lakes, on their father's land northwest of Miami.
The oldest of the Graham brothers, Philip L. Graham, moved to Washington as a young man and married Katharine Meyer, daughter of Eugene Meyer, owner of The Washington Post. The middle brother, Bill, became the main force behind the Miami Lakes development. Bob went into politics, serving in the Florida Legislature before winning a surprise victory in the 1978 governor's race.
Though he was known as a liberal legislator, Graham was a center-of-the-road governor: pro-death penalty, pro-Everglades, pro-abortion rights and content not to tinker with Florida's anti-income tax theology. In 1986, after two well-received terms as governor, Graham defeated Sen. Paula Hawkins (R) in her reelection bid.
He was prominently mentioned in 1992 as a potential vice presidential choice for Bill Clinton, and again in 2000 for Al Gore.
Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., said yesterday that he and his three siblings inherited their father's share of the Miami Lakes project -- now known as the Graham Companies -- when Philip Graham died in 1963. However, he said he has no role in running the Graham Companies, and that Bob Graham has no influence over The Post.
"Bob is my half-uncle," Donald Graham said. "I regard him and [his wife] Adele as friends. But he knows perfectly well The Washington Post is going to cover him as we do every other presidential candidate."