Finding Bob Graham

I never really cared about Congress until I started studying it in college. To me, Bob Graham was always the faceless Democrat who represented us alongside Connie Mack and, later, Bill Nelson. I didn't know that Graham had been representing our state for decades, nor did I know that he was such a powerful figure on Capitol Hill.

Then I learned about Graham's image: driving his Acura around South Florida on the weekends, always donning some worker's uniform for a day to stay in touch with the people at the bottom of the political food chain. He turned into a big guy, a larger-than-life legislator whose integrity couldn't be compromised by Monica Lewinsky or the Project for the New American Century. I saw why so many people respected him, and I realized that unless I was willing to back the bony pseudo-Marxist Daschlites of my party, I would have to go with workhorses like Bob.

The journey into Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes, Florida is an anomaly on the map. It's located alongside Hialeah and Opa-Locka, the working-class Hispanic strongholds of South Floridian culture. And because the closest thoroughfares—the Palmetto Expressway and Red Road—go right around it, you could live in Miami for years and never notice it, as I almost ended up doing.

Turn off the main roads, though, and you'll find yourself in what Floridians call a "development," a gorgeous stucco and palm tree-riddled city built and largely owned by a corporation. Turnberry and Arvida are the big developers here, but Miami Lakes is in the domain of another developer, and that developer is named Graham.

Daniel Robert Graham was born here back when it was nothing but cows and their manure. Now, there's a big picture of him on the ground floor of a carefully-concealed office complex, covered in subdued tones of wood and amber like a giant airline lounge and tucked away in the corner of an outdoor shopping promenade. I would have never found this place if I hadn't called the Senate Office Building and asked Graham's staffer for the address, but when you get there, the little GRAHAM DEVELOPMENT sign gives it away.

Upstairs is where Graham is planning for the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Now, a year before the primaries, it's still a ramshackle collection of young political turks, hanging cables for phone banks and boxes upon boxes of signs, bumper stickers, and banners.

A long shot, but the only way out

The campaign is going forward with a dismal realization in the back of everyone's mind. Graham is only a half-contender for the Democratic nomination in 2004, where John Kerry, Richard Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, and Howard Dean are sharing the lead. They are the Democrats' big guns: Gephardt as a Congressional leader, Kerry as an old-school liberal, Lieberman as a moral conservative, and Dean as a fountain of charisma. Graham might be a leader, but he's not much of a liberal, and he's definitely not charismatic.

That said, Graham's aspirations to face down George W. Bush are fueled by a few slim hopes. First of all, nobody doubts that Graham would take Florida's Electoral College votes easily, which is comforting after the spectacle of the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Graham also has a coherent, hawkish foreign policy of attacking terrorist camps rather than disagreeable states, and is probably the only Democrat with a chance at appealing to otherwise liberal voters who support Bush because of the war against terrorism. And finally, since he has been a state legislator, governor, and senator for four decades without ever losing an election, Graham is the most experienced in the Democratic pack.

Still, Graham's campaign faces a tough battle in the road to the national convention. If he makes it past the primary, he has a good chance of taking many moderate votes out of Bush's hands on Election Day. If he doesn't, we can look forward to seeing Bush face down an ideologue and get re-elected without much effort.

What it means

It almost seems as if Graham gives the voter the best of both worlds. He's a Dixiecrat with awesome credentials, a Democrat who manages to be conservative, a millionaire developer who manages to be populist. In an age where people wonder how Americans can possibly blend a materialistic drive for success with a Christian drive for peace and humility, Graham has a little bit of both. He's not Richard Nixon, and he's not Jimmy Carter—he's the big man who remembers what it's like to be little. That's why I work for him, and that's why I will vote for him, however far as he goes.

Update: Graham left the race on October 6, 2003.

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