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JANUARY 13, 2003

Campaign Diary

Florida Senator Bob Graham's declaration last week that he is
"seriously considering" seeking the Democratic presidential
nomination wasn't exactly a well-conceived attention-getter. Graham
offered his surprising news just two days before Christmas, with
the political establishment off sipping eggnog. (The New York Times
devoted 278 words on page A-20 to the revelation.) Odder still,
Graham first declared his interest in running on a Haitian-
American radio talk show in Miami--hardly "Meet the Press." It was,
in other words, a trial balloon floated in the dark of night. But
people close to Graham say he wasn't just speaking off the cuff.
"He's very serious," says his old friend and former chief of staff,
Charlie Reed. "He's got the fire."Fire, to put it mildly, is not a word normally associated with
Graham. The round-faced 66-year-old looks like he could be
president of the AARP--or anyone's suntanned grandpa retired to a
life of Florida golfing. Graham is a methodical man, famous for
keeping diaries that chronicle--minute by minute-- his meals, trips
to video stores, and bathroom breaks. His Milquetoast appearances
on television, where he has been a ubiquitous presence since the
September 11 attacks, thanks to his co-chairmanship of he joint
intelligence committee, tend to be as memorable as infomercials.

But lately there's been a change in Graham. His sensible,
unremarkable commentary has become charged with a darker, almost
apocalyptic vision of our national security. Where Graham once
spoke in platitudes about the need to reform the intelligence
community, he now speaks of "modern Armageddon" and of imminent,
catastrophic terrorist attacks for which we are "scandalously ill-
prepared." In November, he insisted, "There will be hell to pay for
our vulnerabilities." As the early punditry has noted, Graham
opposed Congress's Iraq resolution, making him unique in the broad
field of Capitol Hill Democrats considering presidential runs. But
Graham is no dove. Instead, he argues that the United States should
be attacking several other Middle Eastern countries harboring
terrorists--and he warns his colleagues that "blood is going to be
on your hands" if they don't listen to him. While few people were
paying attention, the most boring man in the Senate became the most
hysterical. And that might just be his best hope for success.

In many respects, Graham looks a lot like his fellow Democratic
presidential aspirants: a centrist on domestic policy who opposes
the Bush tax cut and supports both abortion rights and the death
penalty. But it's Graham's unexpected foreign policy vision that
could make him stand out.

Unlike the other 20 Democrats who voted against the October Iraq
resolution, Graham wasn't worried that it was too tough but that it
wasn't tough enough. "[T]his resolution is too timid. It is too
limited. It is too weak," Graham explained on the Senate floor. He
would be willing to support an Iraq invasion, he said, only if it
expanded the president's authority even further, "to use force
against all international terrorist groups who will probably strike
the United States as the regime of Saddam Hussein crumbles."
Warning of a massive terrorist retaliation for a war against Iraq,
Graham offered up an amendment on October 8, three days before the
final vote, that would have given President Bush the authority and
mandate to go after several terrorist groups other than Al
Qaeda--including Hamas; Islamic Jihad; the Abu Nidal organization;
and, above all, the group he calls "the A-team," Hezbollah (see
"Rough Trade," page 15). Graham described the failure of U.S.
forces to strike against Hezbollah and other terrorist camps in
Iran, Lebanon, and Syria as "inconceivable." The senator's dire
rhetoric generated almost no debate, and his amendment collected
just ten votes, leading him to vote against the final resolution.

Yet Graham may be betting that his unusual hawk-dove two-step could
distinguish him in a Democratic primary. On the one hand, his stand
on the Iraq war will earn him credit with liberals for having
opposed the president. On the other, centrists will remember his
support for the 1991 Gulf war resolution and may appreciate his
vehemence against terrorism. Of course, it remains to be seen
whether a cry for attacks not on Iraq but Iran will rally voters
(and whether Graham can adequately explain why Saddam deserves more
time to build a nuclear weapon). But Democratic strategists say
that, with the credentials he has earned on the intelligence
committee and with his access to highly classified information,
Graham will have a standing on security issues that rivals that of
Vietnam veteran John Kerry. "He's staking out interesting and bold
positions on foreign policy," says a party strategist. "There's a
sense that he's an adult, that he's substantive."

There are other reasons why Graham could be a surprisingly viable
candidate. His perch on the intelligence committee has made him an
increasingly familiar face nationally; according to Roll Call,
Graham had more Sunday talk-show appearances than any other member
of Congress in 2002--a publicity bonanza that has boosted his
stature. And Graham has some impressive admirers. When Bill Clinton
spoke before the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) last month,
his discussion of foreign policy began with the line, "First of
all, we ought to listen to Senator Graham." (Clinton is a longtime
fan who promoted Graham as a running mate for Al Gore in 2000.) One
Graham aide says that after Clinton's speech several prominent
Democrats who had attended the DLC gathering contacted Graham and
urged him to consider a run.

In addition, several Democratic consultants said that while Graham
would have to work hard and fast to catch up with rivals like Kerry
and Dick Gephardt, he has built enough of a political network
through his career--including his over eight years as Florida
governor and 16 years in the Senate--to do so. In particular, they
say, Florida is a gold mine for Democratic fund-raising, and
several of the state's top moneymen will feel compelled to back a
local product. "Anyone in my state has to consider a run by Senator
Graham," says Fort Lauderdale attorney Mitchell Berger, who raised
millions for Gore in 2000. Graham can also argue that he's more
likely than any of his Democratic rivals to carry the precious
swing state of Florida in 2004. Adds one unaligned Democratic
strategist with extensive presidential campaign experience: "I
think Graham could be a very credible candidate. ... He's going to
have to catch a gust of wind, but he's well-positioned to do
that."

There are, unfortunately, those notebooks, a source of mirth in
every profile and conversation about Graham. For decades, he has
carried pocket diaries in which he scribbles details about his
days. When a Time magazine reporter asked to have a look in 2000,
and Graham disastrously complied, what emerged was nothing short of
bizarre: a narrative of virtually every waking moment, no matter
how mundane. For instance:

8:25: Awaken at MLTH (Miami Lakes Town House)

8:45-9:35: Kitchen, family room. Eat breakfast, branola

cereal with peach

9:35-9:40: Complete dressing. Watch "Meet the Press"

9:25-9:50: Drive to ABC studio

Graham chronicled his entire day this way. He even took note of the
color of his pants and the amount of time spent rewinding a rented
copy of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Some reports suggested the excerpts instantly bumped Graham off
Gore's V.P. list. Graham has never quite lived them down, and
they're sure to haunt him again if he runs, less for any one detail
than for their suggestion of an obsessive-compulsive mind. ("Is the
over-examined life worth living?" one Democratic strategist jokes.)
Then again, when a man is warning about Armageddon, it may be hard
to fixate on the peculiarities of his personality. If Bob Graham
runs, it will be as the Paul Revere of the war on terror. And
there's nothing boring about that.

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