- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democrat Bob Graham told a Senate colleague yesterday that he would abandon his struggling presidential bid, a Democratic source said. But in a day filled with mixed signals, aides said he will continue to campaign.

The Florida senator’s future in the crowded Democratic field remained in doubt as the campaign made several staff changes and held a series of high-level meetings.

Initially, the Graham campaign announced a news conference for today at 2 p.m., suggesting that he would quit the race. But late yesterday, the campaign and state Democratic Party said there would be no news conference.

“Senator Graham has decided to soldier on,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox.

Mr. Graham, after one of several staff meetings in Florida, said, “We’ll make a decision shortly.”

A Democratic source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the three-term senator had informed one of his colleagues he would leave the race. Some staff were told by campaign officials that Mr. Graham was mulling the decision, but they were resigned to losing their jobs. At least one staffer left amid the speculation about the campaign’s future.

“This was just the right time for me to move on,” said Jamal Simmons, who served as spokesman for the campaign.

An official close to Mr. Graham also said he is letting go of several staff members, some of them senior aides. Mr. Graham, one of the most popular leaders in his home state, has struggled near the bottom of the 10-way Democratic presidential pack. He trails most of his rivals in fund raising and polls, and some advisers want him to quit the race.

Others on the campaign want him to focus all his attention on Iowa, site of the nation’s first caucus in January, in hopes of a top-four finish. Then he could be the alternative to front-runner Howard Dean in the Southern primaries.

Campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee said there was discussion of whether to continue with an Iowa strategy or shift to a Southern strategy that focused solely on later contests.

Mr. Graham is expected to report raising around $2 million in the three-month period that ended Tuesday, which probably will place him behind six of his rivals. He had raised $3.1 million to date.

He called off a fund-raiser Thursday night in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Spokesman Paul Anderson said the senator canceled the event in hopes of making a vote. When he could not get a flight in time, Mr. Graham decided to remain in Miami Lakes last night. A Friday evening fund-raiser in West Palm Beach will go on, Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Graham has a strong resume — he is a former state legislator and two-term governor who served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He opposed military action in Iraq, arguing that the Bush administration abandoned the war on terrorism to pursue war with a country that was not an immediate threat to the United States.

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