Graham, candidates: Refocus terror fight

While stumping with congressional hopefuls, the ex-senator faults the White House's strategy in the war on terror.

Published September 14, 2006

TAMPA - Former Sen. Bob Graham was in town stumping for Democratic congressional hopefuls Kathy Castor and Phyllis Busansky on Wednesday when his cell phone rang mid news conference.

"Hey, Don," Graham said, not missing a beat, pretending to field a call from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then criticizing his handling of the war on terror. He told the faux Rumsfeld that Castor and Busansky would be arriving soon in Washington, D.C., with a focus on homeland security.

"They're coming," Graham said. "They're coming, Don, and they're going to help you."

The candidates held their news conference at the Port of Tampa to demand that Congress approve more of the recommendations of the 2-year-old report by the 9/11 Commission, including greater screening of cargo coming into and out of U.S. ports and airports. They characterized the war in Iraq as a "misguided" distraction and money drain that is drawing attention away from securing America's points of vulnerability.

"We understand very well that homeland security is hometown security," Castor said.

Castor faces Republican Eddie Adams Jr., a Temple Terrace architect, in the contest to represent District 11, where voter registration is heavily Democratic. District 11 takes in much of Tampa and slivers of Pinellas and Manatee counties.

Busansky, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and consultant on indigent health care, is facing Republican former state Rep. Gus Bilirakis in the District 9 congressional race to succeed Bilirakis' father. The district covers parts of northern Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and western Pasco County.

Busansky said people are making it clear on the campaign trail that national security is their greatest priority, not the war in Iraq.

"This is not a Democratic issue," she said. "This is not a Republican issue. It's an American issue."

Graham said terrorist groups and their members have only proliferated while America continues its fight to secure Iraq. He faulted the administration's focus on that, instead of on rooting out terrorists and bringing to justice the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, including the man he repeatedly referred to as "Osama bin Forgotten."

"We've given them a free pass over the past five years," Graham said. "We've got to be smarter and more committed than we have been in the past."

Asked his assessment of President Bush's Oval Office address Monday on the five-year anniversary of Sept. 11, Graham dismissed criticism that it was more political than substantive, which he said is to be expected nine weeks before an election. But his review was far from favorable.

"We have not taken the necessary steps to dismantle our enemies," Graham said. "I don't think the president leveled with the American people."

Castor emphasized the need to find creative solutions to make the nation safer. She noted that the University of South Florida's Center for Ocean Technology has already developed ways to identify ships and other objects under water, something that is being used at other ports. She said the U.S. needs to invest in that and other sorts of technology that could make the nation safer.

Graham is just the latest high-profile politician or former politician stumping in the Busansky-Bilirakis race. Next week, President Bush will make a fundraising stop for Bilirakis, who has already gotten visits from Vice President Dick Cheney, House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert and Newt Gingrich.

Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska senator and governor, appeared at a breakfast fundraiser last week in New York with Busansky, who was scheduled to participate in a roundtable discussion today in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.