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Election 2004

Graham's slow start may change Iowa plan

By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer
Published September 26, 2003

WASHINGTON - Lagging in fundraising and trailing in the polls, Sen. Bob Graham is struggling to keep his presidential campaign alive.

Privately, some campaign aides have begun to speculate that Graham will drop out soon because his fundraising has fallen short and he remains at the bottom of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But Graham's closest advisers say the Florida Democrat has shown no interest in leaving the race. They say he will try to get his campaign back on track.

H.W. "Buddy" Menn III, the chief of staff in Graham's Senate office, said, "There has not been a meeting or an organized discussion about the senator's future. What you are getting (from campaign aides) are maybe some individual predictions, forecasts. But there has been no senior management discussions about the future of the campaign."

Menn said changes will be made in the campaign, but he did not elaborate on them.

Some changes are under way. At Graham's request, Menn this week moved from Washington to Miami Lakes to take a major role in the campaign. He is focusing on fundraising and strategy.

Graham is launching a blitz in Iowa, the first state to hold a presidential caucus. Graham said this week that his family rented an apartment in Des Moines because he and his wife and daughters plan to spend so much time there. His first TV ads will begin airing soon in the state.

Call it the Iowa-or-bust strategy.

He lacks the money to make a major effort in other states, so Graham is placing most of his bets on Iowa.

Graham said at a Washington fundraiser Tuesday night, "We're going to start in Iowa, see what kind of results we get there and then make decisions about what to do after Iowa."

Many Democrats expected Graham would be a contender in the race because of his long political resume and his high-profile role as co-chairman of the congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. But he started late because of heart surgery and, after five months of campaigning, barely registers in most polls.

Fundraising has gone poorly. Three weeks ago, a campaign official told the St. Petersburg Times that Graham would raise $4-million to $5-million in the quarter that ends Tuesday. But it now appears the campaign will fall short of that goal.

"We certainly wish we had more money," said campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee. "We certainly wish we were a little bit further ahead than we are."

But Elleithee said the campaign has enough money to run the Iowa TV ads and "keep our campaign going to the next level."

Campaign treasurer Robin Gibson said fundraising is hard. "People, in kind of an unwanted compliment, are saying, "We don't want to lose this guy as a senator.' Fundraising is difficult."

Graham's fundraising coordinators for California and New York quit the campaign in the past week. One of them signed on with former Gen. Wesley Clark, who entered the race Sept. 17 as the 10th Democratic candidate.

"The projects they were working on ended and they decided to move on," Elleithee said. "We wished them the best of luck. We are very excited about the new folks we have on board."

Asked about Graham's ultimate plans, Gibson, a longtime friend, replied, "I believe that Bob Graham has given far more value to the public than he has received in return. I, for one, am grateful for the commitment he has made and the things he has achieved. I personally think he is entitled to pursue whatever political office he wants to pursue. He has earned it.'

If Graham drops out of the presidential race soon, he has several options. He has left open the possibility of running for re-election next year. He has been mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president. There have even been suggestions that he could become president of his alma mater, the University of Florida.

But Elleithee said there were no plans to quit.

"The senator has said very clearly to everyone, "We are full speed ahead."'

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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