Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) dropped out of the presidential race Monday night, citing his late entry into the race as the primary reason for his departure.
“I have made the judgment that I cannot be elected president of the United States,” Graham told CNN’s Larry King.
When asked whether he would seek a fourth Senate term in 2004, Graham demurred.
“I have not yet made a decision as to whether I will seek re-election to the United States Senate,” he said. “That is going to be a decision that I will make very soon.”
Opinions are divided about what the Florida Senator will do.
Some note that he is clearly interested in the vice presidency and would be best situated to be selected as a Member of the Senate.
But, others point out that Graham is frustrated at times with his lack of real power in the Senate; his highest committee assignment is as the ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
If Graham runs again, it is a major boost for Senate Democrats in their quest to retake the majority or at least hold their own. Republicans currently hold a two-seat edge in the body.
Graham is generally regarded as the most popular politician in Florida, having served eight years as the state’s governor before moving to the Senate in 1986.
A Graham retirement would immediately push the race to replace him into high gear.
Already four Democrats — Reps. Peter Deutsch and Allen Boyd, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and former Education Commissioner Betty Castor — are raising money and actively campaigning to replace Graham. It is expected that all four would drop their candidacies if Graham ran again.
On the Republican side, former Rep. Bill McCollum, state Sen. Daniel Webster, Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman and state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd are running. Rep. Dave Weldon, who had been contemplating a Senate bid, announced Tuesday that he would not run.
Already, three Democratic Senators have announced they will not seek re-election in 2004. Sens. Zell Miller (Ga.), John Edwards (N.C.) and Fritz Hollings (S.C.) will not be back, and Democrats will struggle to hold their seats. Among Republicans, only Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (Ill.) has announced his retirement, although Sen. Don Nickles (Okla.) is expected to announce his departure at a news conference today.
Despite being a political icon in the swing state of Florida, Graham’s presidential campaign never took off.
On the verge of officially entering the race in January, Graham was diagnosed with a heart problem and had surgery to correct it.
When he finally did join the presidential race, he was far behind other candidates in organizing and fundraising.
He never broke low single digits in either Iowa or New Hampshire, the first two states in the presidential nominating process.
And his fundraising regularly lagged behind the race’s leaders. He raised around $5 million for the race, roughly a fifth of what the frontrunner, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, brought in during the same time frame.
Graham’s departure whittles the field to nine candidates, a third of whom are his colleagues in the Senate.