Skip to comments.Bob Graham's Senate Future In Limbo (He May Retire)
Posted on 10/13/2003 11:10:35 AM PDT by Pubbie
WASHINGTON Maybe someone out there knows what Sen. Bob Graham is going to do now that his presidential campaign has ended and his Senate seat is up for grabs in 2004.
But the odds are that the only people who have a strong sense of Graham's next step are his wife, Adele, and his four daughters. After all, this is the same man who announced his decision on the presidency last week on CNN's "Larry King Live" to the shock of many members of his senior campaign staff.
Graham spokesman Paul Anderson still expects his decision on the Senate race will come in "days not weeks," leading many to expect the full-scale start of the election year as early as this week. Whatever Graham decides will not only resonate around the Sunshine State but throughout the entire Democratic Party and its chances of taking back power in the Senate.
Graham has spent the past week decompressing with friends and family, and rumors of a pending announcement have been commonplace in Florida and the nation's capital. Yet campaign staffs, party members and experts are still in the dark as to what he will say.
"It's kind of hard to figure," said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks the Senate race for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "Everybody in Washington thinks he's not going to run and everybody in Florida thinks he is."
Sure, Democratic leaders have been calling the state's senior senator to let him know they support whatever decision he makes. But they've also taken a moment to just mention how the party really could use his help.
With Republicans holding just 51 of the 100 seats in the Senate and several Democratic incumbents retiring in the South, a candidate with Graham's name recognition and resume 17 years as a U.S. senator and eight as Florida's governor is seen as a key in any map that shows the Democrats winning back the Senate.
"He really would not have to rely on us for money or support like another nominee might, and we could really concentrate our resources in defending our open seats and trying to knock off our Republican opponents," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Aside from national leaders, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox and Sen. Bill Nelson both have made pitches to Graham in the past week, urging him to stick around Washington. While both said Graham did not share his intentions, Nelson told the Miami Lakes Democrat of the support he has heard about his colleague while traveling Florida for a series of town meetings last week.
"When I say to the group in the town hall: 'It is my hope and my expectation that Sen. Graham will run again for re-election to the Senate,' spontaneously the audience will burst out into applause," said Nelson, D-Melbourne.
Graham will have just turned 68 at the end of his current Senate term. Another six years in the Senate would effectively close out most of his career options.
He is said to be considering a vice presidential nod or a Cabinet position in a Democratic administration, although to do that, he would either have to vacate his seat or leave the race after the deadline for other Democrats to enter. Both scenarios could lead to Gov. Jeb Bush appointing a Republican senator to serve out his term.
Graham could not run and take one of three likely tracks. He could hope to be named to one of the aforementioned posts, go into an entirely different field such as teaching, or he could retire and spend time with his family.
So why do it? Why would Graham subject himself to another term in the Senate, which has been marked by its acrimony of late, especially if he would remain in the minority?
"Politics is like an addiction," said Jim Kane of the Florida Voter Poll. "The reason many officials stay in office for so long is getting used to the power they have and that is difficult to give up."
Graham might have more goals he still wants to try to achieve in Congress, he added.
Beyond party loyalty in trying to achieve a Democratic majority in the Senate, there's also the legacy issue. Graham's poor presidential showing could leave a sour taste in the mouth of a man who has never lost an election since entering politics in 1966.
"He may be thinking, 'I don't want this to be the last chapter in my biography,'" Duffy said.
What happens next
The domino effect of such a decision on the Democratic side is clear. Those running or considering a run Reps. Peter Deutsch, Allen Boyd, Alcee Hastings; former state education commissioner Betty Castor; and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas all have said they will drop out if Graham runs.
The Republican candidates still flirting with a run could re-examine the idea of jumping into the race. But the four announced candidates say they have always expected Graham to enter the race. State GOP executive director Geoffrey Becker sees the only departures coming because a candidate couldn't raise money, not because of a fear of Graham.
David Johnson, chief campaign strategist for state Sen. Daniel Webster, believes the long-held idea "that Graham is invincible is a myth."
In fact, the field believes the positions Graham has staked out on his presidential bid have been so divisive and so far off from most Florida voters that some actually relish the idea of facing him instead of the current candidates.
"Graham would really get my juices flowing in a sense because I've been outraged to watch him demagogue the terrorism issue," said former government watchdog and Senate candidate Larry Klayman, noting the ex-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has "blood on his hands" because he was privy to much of the same information as the president.
Most analysts believe the senator shifted left during the campaign to win primary voters and that his comments on Iraq (most notably saying President Bush should be impeached for misrepresenting what the administration knew before the war) will come back to haunt him.
"Most people believe he's considerably more vulnerable by the way he conducted himself," said former congressman Bill McCollum, who, along with Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, rounds out the field of announced Republican candidates. "He's not the Bob Graham that I knew and that's the way that a lot of people feel."
Anderson, Graham's spokesman, said the senator's stances have not been "unduly partisan and strident" and were simply pointing out problems with the administration's economic and post-war plans.
"Those were not partisan positions," he said. "They are firmly held beliefs."
Tactically, Graham's inclusion in the race allows the Republicans to focus the vitriol on him and not on each other during the primary something they would not be able to do with a field of five Democratic candidates.
Still, political experts believe Graham would have a slight advantage, albeit a tougher campaign than his previous runs for the Senate, and his presence in the race would still be a cause for concern among the Republicans. McCollum, the last Republican Senate nominee who lost an open seat to Nelson in 2000, conceded that idea.
"I don't know anybody who would rather run against an incumbent than have an open seat," he said. "An incumbent is always more of a challenge."
Everyone in Washington thinks Graham won't run, and I tend to believe it.
Bob Graham was running for President? . . . when?
I wouldn't be holding my breath for that Democratic administration anytime soon...
Hope he does't run...this would be a nice GOP seat to pick up.
Incredible! Breaking News!!!
You mean the chapter titled "Delusional Old Fool"?
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