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What of Florida if Gore skips Graham?

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 3, 2000


PHILADELPHIA -- Speculation about where Sen. Bob Graham fits in Vice President Al Gore's search for a running mate changed tone Wednesday at the Republican National Convention.

With Graham's chances fading, Republicans are now wondering how much time and money Gore will spend in Florida.

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Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas predicted that Democrats will be demoralized if, as expected, Gore names someone on Tuesday other than Graham as his vice presidential running mate. Polls indicate adding Graham to the ticket would have made the vice president more competitive against Republican George W. Bush.

"That has to be pretty discouraging," Cardenas said. "Without Graham on the ticket narrowing the margin, it will be exponentially more difficult."

Gov. Jeb Bush and Cardenas said they think Democrats signaled that Gore would not pick Graham when they stepped up criticism of Bush's running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Cheney, 59, has been criticized by Democrats as a politician from another era at a time when the nation needs fresh leadership. Graham is 63 years old and hardly a new face.

"I don't think he is going to do it," Gov. Jeb Bush said.

Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina are now being mentioned as more likely picks than Graham for Gore's running mate.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe said Wednesday he met with Gore campaign chairman William Daley in Nashville and was told no final decisions have been made on a running mate. He said he is confident that Gore will not abandon Florida as Michael Dukakis did in 1988, regardless of whether Graham is on the ticket.

Even without Graham, Bush's advantage over Gore in Florida is in single digits, several opinion polls show.

"Graham's greatest disadvantage is we've done so well without him," Poe said.

Florida's tight Senate race between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Bill McCollum to replace retiring Republican Connie Mack is a key reason for Gore to remain competitive in the state.

The vice president plans to hold a fundraiser for his campaign on Aug. 23 at the Broward home of lawyer Mitchell Berger, a long-time Gore ally.

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