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End of the Road for Graham Campaign?

Despite denials by the Florida Democrat, speculation is growing that he'll leave the race.

October 03, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Graham canceled a fund-raising event and met with strategists Thursday to discuss his flagging campaign, but a spokesman said the Florida Democrat would remain in the 2004 race for the White House.

Speculation about whether Graham would quit mounted Thursday after one campaign spokesman resigned amid an apparent staff shake-up. But Paul Anderson, Graham's communications director for his Senate office in Washington, said the senator remained a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"He is not dropping out of the race," Anderson said. "His campaign is moving forward." Graham told the same thing to a reporter for CNN, Anderson added.

Earlier in the day, however, Graham himself seemed to leave open questions about the future of his campaign.

As he left a meeting with advisors in his hometown of Miami Lakes, Fla., Graham said he was considering his options. "We'll make a decision shortly," he told Associated Press.

He canceled a fund-raiser scheduled for Thursday night in Fort Lauderdale in hopes of making a Senate vote, Anderson said. But he was unable to catch a plane to Washington and stayed in Miami Lakes instead.

Anderson said a fund-raiser scheduled for tonight in West Palm Beach would take place as planned.

Graham's deliberations came as his campaign passed the end of the third quarter Tuesday with expectations for poor fund-raising results -- in the range of $2 million for the three months ending Sept. 30. In a 10-way race for the nomination, he trails badly in polls in several key states. Rival campaigns have talked about recruiting some of Graham's staff members in the expectation that he will soon fold his operation.

Jamal Simmons, a spokesman for the campaign, resigned Thursday. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

An aide answered the telephone at Graham's campaign headquarters Thursday evening but said no one was available to answer questions.

Late Thursday, another campaign spokesman, Mo Elleithee, issued an e-mail statement in which he denied rumors that the senator would drop out, calling today "just another campaign day for us."

"Sen. Graham and his campaign team remain optimistic about his candidacy for the presidency," he added.

Graham, who formally announced his presidential bid in May, has not ruled out another run for the Senate. His third term ends in January 2005. Analysts said that he would be a favorite for reelection but that he could face a strong GOP challenge because his attacks on President Bush have eroded some of his bipartisan support in Florida.

Many Democrats are waiting for the presidential field to begin an inevitable winnowing process in a race that until now has only been expanding. Just two weeks ago, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark jumped into the race. He instantly drew far better poll numbers than Graham and raised money at a faster clip.

Nonetheless, Graham brought considerable potential to the campaign when he announced his entry. He is a former two-term governor of one of the nation's largest states, and one that is critical in presidential politics. He has been elected comfortably three times to the U.S. Senate and is a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In his role on the intelligence committee, Graham gained experience and credibility on terrorism issues after the Sept. 11 attacks. He has touted those national security credentials, his long winning streak in Florida politics and his appeal to moderate Democrats in an effort to convince the party that he has what it takes to beat Bush in a general election.

But from the start, Graham has faced problems. The oldest candidate in the race at age 66, he underwent major heart surgery in January that delayed his entry and cost him precious organizing and fund-raising time. He also has faced repeated questions about his charisma -- or lack thereof -- and about his long-standing custom of keeping minute details of his life recorded in color-coded notebooks.

In his presidential campaign, Graham has hammered Bush relentlessly on his Iraq policy and on his credibility as commander in chief. Graham voted against the congressional resolution last year that authorized the invasion of Iraq, insisting that it would be a distraction from the nation's campaign against terrorism.

Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.

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