TALLAHASSEE — About 100 people turned out for a recent Bob Graham fund-raiser near the state Capitol, where the presidential hopeful served as governor and lawmaker for more than a decade in the 1970s and 1980s.
The inside of the Governor’s Club, a private hangout for lobbyists and politicians, looked more like a reunion of longtime Graham loyalists than a campaign appearance. Most of those in attendance were around the age of the 66-year-old U.S. senator. They applauded politely when he told the crowd he was in the race to stay.
For Graham, it was a welcome respite from the underwhelming reception he’s received in other states. His campaign has struggled to garner attention among a crowded field of Democrats and has been hearing calls to drop from the race and seek to return to the Senate.
“To this point, Graham has not connected,” said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, who specializes in presidential and Southern politics. “Not in Iowa, not in New Hampshire, not anywhere outside his home state.”
And while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is on the cover of Time and Newsweek, Graham has found himself reading unfavorable pieces in The New York Times and The Washington Post. A major home state paper, the Orlando Sentinel, has urged him to give up his presidential ambitions and run again for the Senate.
Even the news events of the day seem to conspire against his campaign.
He was in Oklahoma the same day former WorldCom chief executive Bernie Ebbers was arraigned there on criminal charges of violating the state’s security laws.
No one at the $500 a person fund-raiser last month talked about Graham leaving the race. But some loyalists are getting jittery. Raising money can be a problem for candidates trailing in the early going.
“Your supporters are always nervous because they want to be the front runner and win by acclamation, but that just doesn’t happen,” said Jim Krog, a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist and Democratic campaign strategist.
Graham’s fund raising has been sluggish. He’s raised most of his money from Florida — more than $2.3 million of his $3 million total through the reporting period that ended June 30. His opponents are also raising money in Graham’s home state, collecting a combined $1.9 million through the same period, elections records show.
He predicts his fund-raising report due Sept. 30 will be “solid.”
“You need to show that your candidacy has a reasonable prospect of success in order to maintain the level of contributions that it takes to be successful,” Graham said. “It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation. The other side of that is your poll numbers are affected by your fund raising.”