W A S H I N G T O N, Feb. 28, 2003 -- With little more than a press release, Florida Senator Bob Graham quietly became the ninth national Democrat to file papers to campaign for the party's presidential nomination Thursday.
"I intend to be the Democratic nominee for president," Graham said in a brief statement. "I am the best prepared to lead, and the most able to win."
The Florida senator, 66, is recovering from heart surgery and plans to return to work full time within the next two weeks, a spokesman said.
Word of his presidential aspirations first circulated in December of 2002, and his advisers slowly built momentum by charting the senator's evolution from consultations with advisers to chats with party officials to pledges from fundraisers.
Graham's lawyer, Robin Gibson, will handle administrative duties until a campaign staff is hired. Gibson will serve as campaign treasurer.
Graham's former chief of staff, Bud Shorstein, will remain an outside adviser.
Though many consider him a centrist in key policy debates, he's voted with his party more than ninety percent of the time in the past few years, according to rankings compiled by Congressional Quarterly.
His personal ideology differs from the views held by a large flock of Democratic primary voters, who tend to be more socially and economically liberal than other self-identified Democrats.
Only his foreign policy credentials, touted by former President Clinton, have been trod through. His view that the government should destroy Al Qaeda's terrorist network before it moves on to countries like Iraq has gained currency among the other Democratic hopefuls.
Graham, an active member of the Senate's New Democrat caucus, is at his least traditionally liberal when judging foreign policy questions. He vigorously supported the 1991 Gulf War Resolution and has fought against cuts in defense spending. He's a reliable vote for veterans' appropriations. His credentials on defense, intelligence and national security issues compare with those earned by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
Until recently, he chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Like many Southern Democrats, Graham supports an efficient, activist federal government. But he has generally resisted any large expansion of the social safety net and has insisted that the government balance its books. Admirers say that Graham isn't beholden to any particular government program and is always willing to re-consider his position if the facts change.
He voted against the 2002 farm bill because he thought it much too profligate, according to a spokesman, even though portions of it would have directly benefited Florida farmers.
The ability to at least appear in public to weigh carefully the checks and minuses of a particular piece of legislation has earned him plaudits as a pragmatist, even though he remains a reliable voter for center-left causes, especially social ones.
A two-term Governor of Florida, he has resisted federal intrusions in state affairs. But he lobbied successfully to boost Florida's share of federal highway money, and voted in favor of subsidies for sugar growers and corn farmers.
His endorsement of ethanol subsidies could endear him to Iowa's shrinking but still politically active corps of corn farmers, while posing problems among environmentalist voters in Northeastern suburbs.
A more favorable tax rate for ethanol-based gasoline translates into cheaper gas for companies to buy, which, in turn, helps boost the profits of ethanol refiners, who then look to farmers for more sugar, which they extract from the corn. Other presidential candidates, including Rep. Dick Gephardt, have supported ethanol subsidies for years. Since other countries can produce ethanol more cheaply than American farmers, the industry depends on assistance from the federal government to stay afloat because ethanol-mixed gasoline costs more than pure petroleum.
Graham was one of the 28 Democrats to vote against 1990 legislation to require oil companies to sell ethanol-mixed gasoline to high-pollution urban areas. In 1996, he opposed an EPA rule to do the same.
But he has usually supported lower taxes for ethanol and was a member on a Governor's ethanol caucus when he was Florida's chief executive. In 2002, he fought against efforts to trim ethanol subsidies from energy legislation, though he wound up opposing the entire bill when called to vote.
"Exploring alternative energy sources and something he's always been supportive of," said Jill Greenberg, a Graham spokesperson.
Many environmentalist groups oppose ethanol subsidies because they believe the additive hinders the chemical breakdown of other, more toxic compounds. And other opponents say that federal ethanol incentives take money away from highway projects. Foes say that ethanol subsidies cost taxpayers as much as $800 million a year.
Graham voted against last year's $200 billion farm bill on the grounds that it too expensive "when their were lots of other priorities," according Greenberg.
As Governor, Graham persuaded the federal government to give him money to clean up the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge. He's a reliable vote on "clean water" bills to cut down on pollution.
Last session, he chaired the Environmental and Public Works subcommittee on national parks, long an interest for him. Graham voted to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars, opposed drilling for oil in an Alaskan reserve, though Democratic-leaning environmentalists questioned his vote to move depleted uranium stocks to the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada.
Graham supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a which permitted states to ignore same-sex marriage licenses granted elsewhere. But he has been a strong supporter of making workplace discrimination against gays illegal. He voted against banning partial abortion procedures and is staunchly pro-choice.
While supporting affirmative action, his advocacy of tough welfare-to-work laws has drawn muted criticism from liberal African American groups. He did co-sponsor a bill to give states more money to train workers just off the rolls. And in recent years, he sided with NAACP on 32 of the 33 votes it considered important, according to that group's legislative scorecard.
While Graham has touted the concept of medical savings accounts, he doesn't believe they should be used as the basis for covering the uninsured. Like many Democrats, he favors expanding Medicare to include a substantial prescription drug benefit for seniors. But in past years, he has spoken favorably about means-testing certain entitlement programs and proposed an expedited appeals process for HMO patients instead of granting them more access to courts.
He voted against the Bush tax cut but likes other revenue-generating stimulus measures, particularly those directed to lower-income earners. In 2000, he proposed reducing the tax rate on the first $9,500 earned by individuals and the first $19,000 earned by a family of four. He has authored legislation to make the cost of long-term health care tax deductible.
Graham voted in favor of the 1996 welfare reform bill and was one of its more vocal supporters. Earlier this year, he joined a group of Senators in proposing a "third way" to re-fund reform efforts. In exchange for tighter work requirements and higher rates of work participation by those on welfare, Graham and his colleagues would have given states more money for job training and health care services. He's urged the Bush administration to restore health benefits for illegal immigrants who are pregnant and their children.
Graham is a staunch free-trader, casting favorable votes for NAFTA and to restore trade ties with China. Because economic develop.m.ent in South and Latin America ripples across the Gulf to Florida, Graham supports and has influenced trade agreements across the continent. He was one of the original sponsors of a bill to grant the president extensive trade promotion authority.
An advocate for tax reform, he fought to make sure that small businesses were represented on an IRS reform commission. But the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a top DC lobbying group, scored his votes a 13 percent out of a hundred, below the scores given to liberals like Senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
"Senator Graham's record on small-business issues hasn't been great, to put it mildly," said Susan Eckerly, who lobbies the Senate for the NFIB.
The AFL-CIO scores his lifetime voting record a 76 percent—relatively high, though "on the low of end of Democrats," according to a top labor official. By comparison, the other Senate Democrats--Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, score in the 90th percentile. According to several analyses of his campaign contributors, labor-linked groups and individuals don't comprise a significant proportion of his donor base.
He supports the death penalty and wrote successful legislation to strengthen penalties for ecstasy dealers.
But he voted against the confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General and has argued in favor of prohibiting the courts from trying illegal immigrants more than once for the same crime. (Graham contends that deportation proceedings amounted to a second trail for an immigrant who has already paid a debt to society).
Graham does not support legalizing marijuana. His spokeswoman said he hasn't taken a position on whether states should be allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes though she said that Graham "generally disfavors" federal pre-emption of state law.