Sen. Bob Graham

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Sen. Bob Graham
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham
Credit: Graham Senate Web site

Gore-Graham 2000 campaign button
Long a bridesmaid in the VP sweepstakes -- he was considered as a running mate for Al Gore in 2000 -- Graham now reaches for the top.
Credit: From the collection of Ken Rudin, NPR News

Note: Bob Graham announced his withdrawal from the race Oct. 6, 2003.

May 20, 2003 -- NPR's Bob Edwards spoke with Sen. Bob Graham of Florida as part of an ongoing Morning Edition series of interviews with each of the announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Below, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin provides background on the Graham candidacy.

"On paper." Whenever someone is making the case for Florida Sen. Bob Graham's chances for the Democratic presidential nomination, often you'll hear the phrase that Graham is the best candidate "on paper." Indeed, if a resumé is what gets you into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Graham should start packing right now. He has extensive experience in both the executive and legislative branches of government: 12 years in the state legislature, eight years as governor, and service in the U.S. Senate since he was first elected in 1986. In fact, should he win the presidency, he would become the first since Andrew Johnson to have served as both governor and senator. Four of the last five presidents were governors.

Plus, Graham hails from Florida, where he is a proven and consistent vote-getter. The swing state is a rich trove of 27 electoral votes and a seemingly unlimited source of campaign funds. Considered an expert on intelligence matters, and a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he is thought to have the bona fides to go after President Bush on terrorism and national security, a potential Achilles heel for the GOP in 2004.

But there is a huge gap between "on paper" and "in reality." And reality says that Graham has gotten into this contest comparatively late (formally announcing on May 6) and is still struggling to put together viable organizations in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. What he has in experience is not equaled in the charisma department; he comes off as well-meaning but plodding and uninspiring. His campaign skills are noticeably rusty, not having a tough opponent to run against in 16 years. His centrist voting record, which serves him well in the Sunshine State, is not especially suited for a left-leaning Democratic electorate. (On foreign policy, however, he did vote against giving Mr. Bush authorization to go to war in Iraq, unlike fellow lawmakers Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt.) He is less than four months removed from undergoing open-heart surgery and, at 66, he would trail only Ronald Reagan as the oldest person ever to win the presidency. And -- as every political journalist seems obliged to mention -- Graham has this baffling inclination to jot down every detail (trivial or otherwise) of his day on a memo pad that he carries around with him. The discovery of his diary oddity is thought to be one reason why Al Gore eliminated him late in the process as a potential running mate in 2000.

Gore and previous presidential nominees Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton passed Graham over as a running mate, which still gnaws at the Floridian. He remains convinced (and he's not alone) that had he -- rather than Joe Lieberman -- been named as number two, the last election would not have depended on butterflies and chads and Rehnquist and Scalia. There are still those who believe that Graham is in this race for the vice presidency. Of course, he insists that is not the case. And if you look at the new way of thinking in the formulation of a ticket -- see Gore 1992, Cheney 2000 -- the old criteria of resumé and balance may no longer apply.

Bob Graham was first elected to the Florida state house in 1966, representing a Miami-area district. He graduated to the state Senate four years later, staying there until his upset victory in the 1978 gubernatorial contest. A millionaire real-estate developer, Graham bested a Democratic primary field that included better-known candidates such as the lieutenant governor, the state attorney general, and a former secretary of state. He did so in no small part to his clever tactic of touring the state working at 100 different jobs as a teacher, or fireman, or garbage collector to identify with the average Joe. It was a technique that he repeated in subsequent campaigns. After two terms, he unseated Republican Sen. Paula Hawkins in 1986, and was easily returned to office twice more. His seat is up in 2004. While he has encouraged other Democrats who covet his Senate seat to get ready, he has not ruled out seeking a fourth term should his presidential effort fail. Meanwhile, he has continued his "workdays" routine, waiting on tables in Iowa and substitute teaching in New Hampshire.

In seeking the nomination, Graham differs from President Bush on several fronts. Graham supports tax cuts, but ones aimed more at low- and middle-income workers. But he is most effective at dismantling the Bush record when it comes to fighting terrorism. Graham says that the administration had Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda "on the ropes" after Afghanistan but let them get away by focusing on going to war against Saddam Hussein. He accuses the White House of withholding information regarding its terrorism failures as part of a "cover-up." He is running for the nomination as a centrist... or, as he would say, from the "electable wing of the Democratic Party." His plan for expanding health care to the uninsured is far less drastic and costly than some of those proposed by his other Democratic rivals. He is a strong proponent of the death penalty and supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

Strong issues, to be sure. First, of course, Graham has to win the Democratic nomination. And that's where he faces the greatest hurdle. Florida doesn't hold its presidential primary until March 9 -- a date by which most observers feel the race will already be over. At the recent debate in South Carolina, which was highlighted by the bitter back-and-forths between John Kerry and Howard Dean, Graham failed to stand out. He did seem especially pleased that, during the segment in which candidates would directly address each other by asking questions, four of the queries went to him -- more than anyone else. But they were mostly softballs of no consequence. However, a week later, while campaigning in Des Moines, he was interviewed on CBS' Face the Nation and gave a strong and articulate critique of the Bush record.

Related NPR Stories

more Nov. 3, 2003: Bob Graham announces he will not seek a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

more Oct. 7, 2003: Hear a Morning Edition report on Graham becoming the first Democrat to drop out of the 2004 presidential race.

more Aug. 25, 2003: All Things Considered presents an excerpt of Graham's stump speech.

more Aug. 6, 2003: On Day to Day, Slate political columnist Will Saletan translates Graham's favorite buzzwords.

more July 28, 2003: NPR's Mara Liasson follows Graham on a campaign swing in New Hampshire.

more July 24, 2003: Graham and other lawmakers discuss a congressional report detailing intelligence failures by the FBI and CIA before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

more May 14, 2003: Graham charges that bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, were the result of U.S. distraction from the war on terrorism.

more May 6, 2003: Graham formally launches his presidential campaign.

more Dec. 12, 2002: Graham participates in a Talk of the Nation discussion of U.S. intelligence failures and what to do about them.

more Sept. 4, 2002: Graham lists reasons why the United States should not attack Iraq. more More Morning Edition interviews with the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates

Web Resources

  • Bob Graham's 2004 presidential campaign Web site.

  • Graham's Senate Web site.