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Graham content on the sideline

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 15, 2000


LOS ANGELES -- This week could have been the high point in Sen. Bob Graham's political career.

Hundreds of delegates to the Democratic National Convention would be wearing "Gore-Graham" T-shirts and buttons. Graham would have Secret Service protection, a limousine and an entourage of reporters. His face would probably be on the cover of Time and Newsweek.

Instead, the Florida senator was in a hotel hallway Monday morning, answering reporters' questions about the fact that he was not chosen as Vice President Al Gore's running mate.

"I was very flattered to be considered, but the choice of Joe Lieberman is outstanding," Graham said, repeating a mantra he has used many times since the Connecticut senator was chosen.

In a meeting with reporters, Graham said he was not disappointed that he was not chosen and is happy to remain in the Senate.

"I was not lusting for a new job," he said as he munched on Grape Nuts cereal in a hotel meeting room.

Asked about reports that he was bypassed partly because of his odd note-taking habit, Graham said he was proud of his little notebooks.

"I don't consider the notebooks or the ties (he wears the same style of Florida tie every day), or the workdays (he spends one day every month working in a different job), to be personality quirks. I'm very comfortable with them," he said.

The notebooks, in which Graham records trivial details such as his daily weight and what he eats for breakfast, were ridiculed by national columnists while the Gore campaign was choosing the running mate.

"The notebooks have served me very well," Graham said, likening them to an electronic organizer.

Bob Poe, the state Democratic chairman, joked with delegates Monday that Gore told him the reason Graham was not picked.

"He told me it wasn't the notebooks," Poe said. "It was the ties."

Graham said he had advised Gore to emphasize issues appealing to senior citizens such as Social Security and Medicare.

Graham said he disagrees with pundits who say Gore is unlikely to win Florida.

"Florida is too important -- with 25 electoral votes -- to be abandoned. This is a state that's winnable to Al Gore," he said.

President Clinton carried Florida in 1996 but did not mount a serious effort in 1992, contrary to Graham's recommendation.

"If Clinton had taken my advice in 1992, he would have carried Florida," Graham said.

The Miami Lakes senator, who often breaks with his party to forge bipartisan deals, was very much the loyal Democrat on Monday.

In speeches to the Florida and Louisiana delegations, he reminded them of the prosperity of the past eight years under the Clinton-Gore administration.

"Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?" he asked the Florida delegation.

The delegates shouted: "Yes!"

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