Long Wait About to End

3 Democrats Ready to Run for Senate if Graham Says He’s Retiring

Posted October 29, 2003 at 6:40pm

With Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) poised to reveal by early next week whether he will seek a fourth term, the three Democrats who have spent months preparing to launch an actual campaign stand ready to implement their individual game plans should the Senator announce he is not running for re-election.

All of the Democratic candidates in waiting — Rep. Peter Deutsch, former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas — have said they will end their bids if the Senator decides to run again.

If, however, Graham announces that he will not return to the Senate, it will set off a mad dash for the candidates as they jockey for frontrunner position, race to pick up former Graham supporters and pad their campaign coffers by the end of the year.

“There is a plan,” said Jeffrey Garcia, campaign manager for Castor, referring to the preparations in place if Graham retires. “There is an actual plan, typed out and written.”

Sources said that Graham is likely to announce his decision Monday in Florida.

In a memo distributed to all Graham staff in Washington, D.C., and Florida on Wednesday, Chief of Staff Henry Menn reassured aides that they would be among the first to learn of Graham’s decision, which he said would be announced on or before next Tuesday — a year before the 2004 elections.

“Please know we are entering a period of great speculation, ‘chatter,’ and rumor over Senator Graham’s re-election decision,” Menn wrote in the memo. “The Senator has not reached a final and complete decision on re-election.”

The Democratic campaigns have faced an ambiguous situation for months, but they clearly have not taken planning for Graham’s eventual decision for granted.

A spokesman for the Deutsch campaign said that the Congressman had an announcement tour already in the works, one that would occur soon after a Graham retirement announcement.

“We have basically been making calls for the last three weeks getting ready for a potential race,” said Ryan Hampton. “It will just take a short period of time after Senator Grahams’ announcement to pull it together.”

The tour, if it takes place, would then be followed by a large fundraiser in South Florida, he said.

Deutsch launched a new campaign Web site this week. Hampton said that the Congressman’s December calendar is already full of prospective events, pending Graham’s announcement and the expected adjournment of the House.

“We would literally be having a fundraiser every other day in December” if there is a campaign, Hampton said.

Representatives for all of the Democratic campaigns agreed that the chase for dollars would be the most significant and high profile scramble if the Senator announces his retirement.

“The focus does change back to fundraising,” Garcia said.

A spokeswoman for Penelas said that the mayor has canceled fundraising events, pending Graham’s decision, but that those could be rescheduled if need be.

“I think it’s no holds barred for the Penelas campaign,” Penelas campaign spokeswoman Danae Jones said, referring to fundraising if Graham leaves the race. “Penelas has already done very well especially given the uncertainty of Graham getting back into the Senate race.”

As of Sept. 30, Deutsch had $3.3 million on hand for the race, Castor had $461,000 and Penelas had $1.6 million, after outraising the other Democrats during the third quarter.

Deutsch, Castor and Penelas all have opened campaign offices and started to build a campaign staff.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) has also been exploring a Senate run, but he has not yet begun raising money for the race and has not said definitively that he would run if Graham does not.

Fred Turner, Hastings’ chief of staff, said the Congressman has the necessary financial support already lined up “if he’s going to pull the trigger.”

“There are people who are ready to go if we need them to go,” Hastings said.

Meanwhile, Garcia said that Castor has been campaigning “non-stop” since Graham announced on Oct. 6 that he was dropping his presidential bid.

Castor has traveled to 17 counties since that time, holding multiple events in some, but she has not been raising money in that period in deference to the Senator.

“We knew something was coming,” Garcia said, referring to Graham’s decision. “We knew we couldn’t do fundraising, so we took our show on the road. It was either just sit around and wait or get out and do something.”

Garcia also hinted that the campaign would have some “surprisingly revealing” polling information to release in the event Graham does leave the race.

“I think the picture will come much clearer very quickly,” he said, referring to the current ambiguity and lack of a frontrunner. “One would imagine that surveys would be very revealing.”

If Graham decides to forgo re-election, it will set up an open seat contest where Democrats would only be slightly favored to retain the seat.

The Republicans already in the Senate race include former Rep. Bill McCollum, state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, state Sen. Daniel Webster and Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman.

Webster was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday building support for his bid.