It’s now all but official: A Floridian will run for the democratic nomination for president.
Late last week, U.S. Sen. Bob Graham filed the paperwork to begin raising money for a presidential run. He has yet to officially announce, but every indication is that he will do so shortly.
The filing kicked off the debate into whether Graham has a chance for the Oval Office. Some analysts have already speculated that, should he survive the primary, Graham may have a good shot at defeating President George W. Bush in the general election.
Graham has been a critic of Bush’s policy on Iraq. As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he has been at the forefront of post-Sept. 11 politics and helped in the creation of the Patriot Act. His approach is more middle-of-the-road, appealing to bipartisan voters.
A Graham versus Bush election would turn Florida into a battleground state. Bush, with his brother Jeb as the state’s governor, is hoping to easily win Florida’s large and vital load of electoral votes. A Graham victory in the primary could interrupt the Bush family’s Florida dominance.
In fact, this may give Graham the best chance of any democrat. With Texas solidly behind Bush, Florida will probably be a necessary state to wrestle control of the presidency from the Republican Party.
Graham, however, may have a difficult time getting to that point. The race for the democratic nod is quite crowded, and Graham will probably not be able to raise the most money. Also, competitor Joseph Lieberman has the experience, exposure and name recognition that come from having run as a vice presidential candidate in 2000.
It is the name recognition that may be Graham’s Achilles’ heel. Despite being a U.S. Senator since 1986, the St. Petersburg Times reported that many Washington insiders say “he’s not a player.”
At 66, Graham’s health may also become an issue. Graham underwent heart surgery Jan. 31. His staff initially said the surgery was to replace an aortic valve and hid the fact that it also included bypass work.
The immediate result of the surgery is that it has put Graham behind his competitors. He has said that will not be a problem, but, in politics, time means a lot.
This will also be a difficult race for all the candidates involved. Graham has not faced a serious threat in an election in many years. If he wins the democratic nomination, it will no doubt be close.
Graham, a former governor, is well liked throughout Florida. After a disastrous 2002 election, the Florida Democratic Party needs an uplift. Graham, if he can make a solid run, could provide that spark.