Tuesday :: May 6, 2003

Why Bob Graham Should Not Be Discounted


by Steve

Now that I’ve had several days to cool off over the initial gathering of Democratic presidential candidates over the weekend, and with Bob Graham’s formal entry in the race today, I want to spend a few minutes commenting on the pursuit for the moderate part of the Democratic base.

First, some general thoughts. After seeing parts of the “debate” over the weekend, Lieberman’s strategy is quite clear. He wants to see the rest of the field fight for the middle and left of the party’s base while he stakes out the center-right, Democratic Leadership Council wing of the party in the primaries. He made his case Saturday night in his usual, slightly pious manner that is his trademark. He made the point, which I agree with, that the party’s nominee must be strong on defense to compete in this new post 9-11 environment. And Lieberman has several things going for him, as I have said before. He can undercut Karl Rove’s efforts to take the Jewish vote from the Democrats in 2004, and it is known that the White House is concerned about Lieberman’s appeal to voters on the issues of faith and trust, two things that Rove is assuming Bush will have an advantage over most Democrats.

Dean, and especially Kerry need to break off from this death grip-wrestling match they are engaged in, and get back to focusing on the real opponent. Dean was scoring points with the base and those who haven’t voted in a while as long as he was speaking to disaffected voters. But he has been sucked into responding to a couple of Kerry’s stupid taunts that has done him no good. Kerry, for his part, needs to stop egging on and attacking Dean for things he didn’t say, and start acting like a frontrunner. That means having a well-defined list of policies that separate you from the man you are running against, a constant and effective effort at selling those policies, and most of all, separating yourself from the rest of the pack by ignoring the others and acting already like this is a two-way race with Bush. The sooner the base and independents see you as a credible opponent to Bush, the easier it will be to separate yourself from the pack. But to do that, you must reinforce the image through your own behavior that you have risen above the rest of the pack. You don’t get there by slugging it out with a guy with a single-digit poll number. If you want to be the frontrunner, you need to act like it.

Gephardt has sprinted to a strong showing so far in Iowa, and isn’t going away. He did well Saturday night, and it benefited him to have the others attack him, which played into his hands. His experience on the national stage before is showing in how he handled himself Saturday, and in seeing the opportunity to get out early on health care. Edwards came across great on TV, and has bought himself more time to actually put together a set of policies to run on.

Which leads me back to Graham. As ABC’s The Note points out today, in a very positive write-up:

We cannot figure out to save our lives why Graham is not being taken more seriously as a formidable candidate by the Gang of 500.

He is from the ultimate mega-state of presidential politics; he's been an overwhelmingly popular governor and senator; he can tout his electability, without anyone challenging it or giggling; he has a record on national security, health care, and the economy; he is unflappable; he has attracted a top-level staff in a hurry; he is well-liked in Washington and in his homestate; he has a strong fundraising record; he's a genuinely nice guy with fewer airs about him than anyone running; he has a loyal staff; etc.

And yet, and yet — the other campaigns don't seem to fear him, and we can't quite explain why, but he just isn't talked about much by the Chattering Class as a player in this nomination fight. Look at all the soft-ball questions he got in the debate.

Despite the fact that he is the ultimate vice presidential candidate bridesmaid, it seems in one sense almost a certainty that Graham will be on the ticket in 2004 — if not at the top, then in the second slot.

Putting Florida decidedly in play is no small thing, and Graham seems like a great compliment to any of the other likely nominees.

And the AP gives him a good write-up also:

Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, an unbeaten 37-year veteran of Florida politics, launched his presidential campaign Tuesday by accusing President Bush of retreating from the war on terrorism to "settle old scores" between the Bush family and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

The ninth addition to the Democratic field, Graham confronted Bush on the president's most potent political issue -- national security -- while suggesting that his party rivals are not fighting hard enough against White House tax cuts.

"It is painfully clear that this president has no economic policy other than granting tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans," Graham told hundreds of supporters gathered beneath a blazing midday sun in his home town.

More importantly to me however, are the issues and the line of attack that Graham has led off with.

Graham said Bush's leadership has not worked to ease dangers posed by al-Qaida and other terrorists groups. "This administration has ignored homeland security in all but name while it focused all its energy on Iraq," he said.

In his announcement, Graham said that as president he would jump-start the economy with investments in transportation, education and targeted tax cuts. He told supporters he was running to "bring back our economy. As governor, I led in the creation of over one million new jobs in this state, increased investment in education, housing, infrastructure and we still kept one of the lowest tax rates in the nation."

As the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Graham intends to take the toughest stand against Bush's anti-terrorism record. "Instead of pursuing the most imminent and real threats to our future -- international terrorists -- this Bush administration chose to settle old scores," he said.

Graham wants to eliminate the first $10,000 in payroll taxes, saving the average Americans $765 a year for two years, campaign officials said. That would reduce revenues to the Social Security and Medicare programs, but Graham would replace it by closing offshore corporate tax breaks and other loopholes.

I think Graham has chosen an effective line of attack on Bush: go right after his record on terrorism with your own knowledge of what led up to 9/11 and what Bush has failed to do since. Graham is almost singularly positioned to speak with credibility on these subjects, more so than any other Democrat while undercutting Lieberman’s claim for the national security/strong defense votes. Graham is also going after Bush on jobs and taxes, where Bush is very vulnerable.

Graham also wants to put money into the hands of many more Americans than any Bush or GOP tax cut, and he has come up with a strong and populist approach of closing offshore corporate tax breaks and loopholes.

Sure, Graham may be playing for VP. But he is the biggest threat to Lieberman’s plans at this point, has a built-in singular advantage in going right after Bush on Bush’s own strengths, and upsets the electoral math for the White House.

He may not be flashy, but having him on the ticket increases the Democrats chances of winning.

Steve :: 10:10 PM :: Comments (33) :: Digg It!