- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, yesterday announced that he will not run for re-election in 2004, ending a nearly 40-year political career and giving Republicans a good opportunity to pad their slim majority in the Senate.

Mr. Graham, who dropped his foundering bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last month, said it was a “difficult decision” to not seek re-election, but he looks forward to spending more time with his family.

“As Winston Churchill declared, ‘Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,’” Mr. Graham said at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla.

Mr. Graham, who will turn 67 next week, said he will fill his political retirement with writing and the “creation of an institution that instills the values of great Floridians” who have held public office as Democrats.

Speculation about Mr. Graham’s political future has swirled since his entry into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes in February after extensive heart surgery.

His campaign never gained steam, and political observers said his appeals to the hard antiwar left in his bid for the nomination might have jeopardized the centrist reputation he forged when winning three terms in the Senate.

Nonetheless, Stephen Craig, director of the University of Florida’s graduate program in political campaigns, said Mr. Graham’s retirement puts Democrats at a disadvantage.

“This hurts the Democrats, clearly,” Mr. Craig said. “It doesn’t mean that Florida is unwinnable, but Graham would have been the party’s strongest candidate. The Democrats don’t produce the kind of top-shelf candidates like they used to.”

Mr. Graham is the fourth Southern Democrat to announce his retirement this year, after Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina.

“The South will be fertile territory for Republicans this cycle, and Florida is another excellent opportunity for us,” said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Republicans hold a 51-48 majority in the Senate. After a spate of retirements — including that of one Republican, Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma — Democrats must defend 15 seats in 2004. Republicans will defend 14 seats, and there are now five open races in states carried by President Bush in 2000.

Prominent Florida Republicans vying for Mr. Graham’s seat include former Rep. Bill McCollum, state Sen. Daniel Webster, state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and Miami lawyer Larry Klayman.

Mr. McCollum declared himself the “front-runner in this race” based on recent polls and called for “party unity” before the Republican primary in August.

Mr. Klayman said Mr. Graham’s retirement “makes it even more likely that I’ll be elected the next Republican senator.”

“The race is now completely wide open, and my candidacy is the most attractive since this is the year of the outsider, the non-politician,” Mr. Klayman said.

The leading Democratic candidates are Reps. Alcee L. Hastings, Peter Deutsch and Allen Boyd, former Florida state Education Commissioner Betty Castor and Miami Mayor Alex Penelas.

“Democrats have strong Senate candidates, all of whom represent the forward-looking, mainstream vision that millions of Floridians have come to know under Senator Bob Graham,” said Sen. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Democratic staffers said privately, however, that they are worried about keeping Mr. Graham’s seat in Democratic hands.

“There had been contingency plans if Bob Graham decided not to run,” said a Senate Democratic source. “He’s going to be missed. There’s no question about it.”

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