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Graham Withdraws from US Presidential Race - 2003-10-07

With a surprise announcement on a television interview show, Florida Senator Bob Graham Monday became the first major Democratic candidate to withdraw from the U.S. presidential race. Even though he is officially out of the race, Mr. Graham could still have a major impact on next year's presidential election.

Florida Senator Bob Graham pulled out of the race, saying he had concluded he could not be elected president next year. He said his duties as a head of a commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; his heart surgery, which delayed the start of his campaign; and the war in Iraq had all hurt his ability to run a presidential campaign.

Many political analysts say despite his national stature, Mr. Graham never really connected with Democratic activists, who make up the bulk of people who vote in primary elections, in the way that the current front-runner, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, has. They also say he has been unable to raise the large amounts of money that are necessary for a presidential campaign. However many analysts, such as Michael Martinez of the University of Florida, say now that Mr. Graham is no longer a presidential candidate, he has become an ideal candidate for vice president on any democratic ticket.

"There are a number of factors that might make him appealing for the vice presidency. One is that he is from Florida, which was the swing state in the 2000 presidential election, as everyone knows," he said. "But the other possibility would be his experience on the intelligence committee. Oftentimes if the presidential nominee is trying to balance the ticket like Howard Dean or Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts who are northerners they may be looking for a southerner to balance the ticket."

Now, the big question facing Mr. Graham and his supporters is whether or not he will seek re-election next year as Florida's senior senator. Michael Martinez says if Mr. Graham is offered, and accepts a spot on the Democratic ticket as a vice presidential nominee, the Democratic Party's chances of holding onto his valuable senate seat could be in jeopardy.

"It would hurt the Democratic Party's chances of holding onto the seat in Florida, because then other good candidates who might have joined the race may have stepped aside in deference to Graham," he said.

Several prominent Florida Democratic lawmakers have already begun campaigning for Senator Graham's seat but they say they will withdraw from the race if he decides to seek re-election. Mr. Graham and his family say he will announce his decision on whether to see re-election within a few days.