Democratic Dwarf Toss


The key player now in the dreary Democratic primary dwarfdom stakes is sleeper candidate Senator Robert Graham of Florida. Recovering from extensive heart surgery, Graham, 66, had Gwen Logan, his daughter, file papers last week to form a presidential campaign. Not that he’s likely to win the nomination, or even run as John Edward’s VP in hopes of shoring up the North Carolina airhead hunk. That’s not the point. By jumping into the race, Graham’s putting down a marker on the battleground state’s primary votes. If he can hold on through a primary or two and not look like a complete dodo, Graham can help force the party into a brokered convention in Boston next summer. In that circus atmosphere, anything goes. If, for example, Bush’s war drags on, the fortunes of the so-called front-running little people (i.e., Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards), all of whom have shuffled around supporting Bush, will decline, while those of outside insurgents like Kucinich and Dean will go up. Who knows, Atari Democrat Gary Hart might even make it back to the center ring.

A former two-term governor, Graham’s a popular three-term senator and hasn’t been beaten since he first ran for the legislature in 1966. Graham voted against the Iraq war resolution and was openly “outraged” by the nation’s shabby intelligence system

He occupies a pivotal niche in national politics. The senator is loaded, and with billionaire Warren Buffett as a pal, the sky’s the limit. Florida is a huge source of funds for Dems. Party candidates in 2000 raised $2.8 million from the state’s citizens. Soft-money contributions to both political parties in 2000 ran to $23 million. New legislation may curb that this year, but Graham can hurt candidates like Joe Lieberman, who raised $350,000 in two days in South Florida recently. Graham could also put a damper on candidates like Gephardt and Kerry trying to raise money there. Florida is the fourth largest state and, after all, was the decisive factor in the bitter 2000 election.

Last but not least, as brother-in-law of the late Katherine Graham of The Washington Post, he is the uncle of Donald Graham, now the paper’s boss.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Rebecca Winsor