Timing is everything in politics. Had Florida Sen. Bob Graham been Al Gore’s choice for a running mate in 2000, he’d likely be Vice President Graham now.
Instead, he’s a 66-year-old senator recuperating from heart surgery who has just filed the necessary paperwork to run for president. Sure, he’s qualified to be president, but that’s never been enough. America’s political landscape is littered with the shattered hopes of intelligent, knowledgeable, competent men who couldn’t win this country’s ultimate popularity contest.
Graham is not exactly charismatic, and although he’s a political icon in Florida, he’s not particularly well known outside the Sunshine State. While he did gain exposure by heading the congressional inquiry into Sept.11, he’s still not considered a prime time “player” in Washington. Then there’s that weird habit of documenting everything, including the minutiae of his daily life, in those little notebooks. Some 4,000 — and counting. Imagine how that will play on Saturday Night Live or the Fox Network.
Moreover, he’s not far enough to the left to appeal to Democratic Party activists who exact inordinate influence in the early primaries. He’s the only one in the hunt, for example, who’s actually signed death warrants. He’s relatively late to the ’04 fray and needs to raise at least $20 million to be viable.
The odds are long, and his campaign seems likely to parallel that of President Orrin Hatch.
The Graham candidacy, however, represents more than a last chance scenario for Florida’s popular three-term senator and two-term governor. It’s also a statement about the competition. Call it a vote of no confidence in the underwhelming candidacies of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Much more telling, however, had to be the formal papers filed with the Federal Election Commission by former Illinois Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Mosely-Braun and Kucinich?
Why not George McGovern? He’s still alive. Why not Jimmy Carter? He still has eligibility left.
In fact, why not Ted Kennedy? He still has the Camelot connection. Or why not Jesse Jackson? He still has but one illegitimate child.
To Graham, an expert on national security who is at odds with the president over Iraq, the prospect of a re-elected George W. Bush couldn’t be more frustrating. A case can be made that President Bush, although beset with a troubled economy, an impending $400-billion deficit, homeland security anxieties and a polarizing, imminent war with Iraq, is still on track to be re-elected in 2004.
How’s that for motivation?