Graham still in race despite poor showing

Presidential candidate `considering his options'

announcement expected

October 05, 2003|By Gwyneth K. Shaw and Mark Silva | Gwyneth K. Shaw and Mark Silva,ORLANDO SENTINEL

WASHINGTON - Florida Sen. Bob Graham clung to his presidential campaign yesterday, amid more speculation and questions about how much longer the floundering effort can survive.

Speaking to reporters after addressing the Democratic National Committee's fall meeting, the Democrat said he is considering his options and will make an announcement soon.

"We are committed to this race," he said, repeating the assertion several times. "We are looking at the ways to be the next president of the United States."

When pressed on whether dropping out is an option, Graham finally retorted: "That's not a very good way to get to the White House, unless you want an invitation to lunch."

But Graham's campaign is clearly in trouble. Fund-raising efforts have not kept pace with the leaders among the other nine Democratic candidates - Graham collected only $2 million in the three-month period that ended last week - and several staffers have left the campaign in the past several days.

Graham said yesterday, however, that he still thinks he can win - by offering voters an honest, pragmatic message, a point he stressed in his speech to the DNC.

He said he is "outraged as an American and a Democrat" at the Bush administration's foreign policy - which he said has led to a quagmire in Iraq - at the immense deficits run up by the White House and by the stagnant economy.

The speech was met with applause from the audience, although the reception was not as enthusiastic as it was for some other candidates, including North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who preceded Graham.

Graham made a good show of pressing ahead, one supporter said, but Democrats are starting to count the days to the end of his campaign.

"People were asking me at the DNC meeting about Graham," said Bob Poe, former Florida Democratic Party chairman and a Graham campaign supporter. "The sense in the room, looking at the room, was it was more a matter of when he gets out than if he gets out. ... `Doom' isn't the right word, but just people feeling that it won't be long before he's out."

But Gordon Fischer, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said that by narrowing his focus to just that state - home of the first caucuses in the nation - Graham could gain some ground. Graham connects strongly with small groups, Fischer said, and that quality resonates with Iowa voters.

"To be fair, in Iowa, `undecided' is by far the front-runner," Fischer said. "It's very fluid."

It may simply, however, just be too late to turn the campaign around.

"Graham did well," said Poe, a Sanford-based entrepreneur who has attempted to muster support for Graham among state party leaders, about Graham's speech. "But there is still a lot of uncertainty about what is going on, a lot of mixed signals in the media and what is swirling around with people leaving the campaign."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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