TOPICS > Politics

2004 Presidential Campaign

October 7, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: And then there were nine. For a look at why three-term Senator bob graham of Florida abandoned his Democratic presidential primary bid last night, and where that leaves the rest of the field, we’re joined by Adam Nagourney, chief political reporter for the “New York Times.” Adam, welcome.

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Thanks, Margaret. How are you?

MARGARET WARNER: He looked like on paper the perfect candidate: Southerner, centrist Democrat, yet he voted against the Iraq War. Why did Bob Graham have to throw in the towel so early?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: I agree with you. If you were to ask me about him at the beginning of this, just looking at his resume, looking at his experience in the Senate looking not incidentally at what state he’s from, I would have thought top tier candidate. He just did not make much of an impression on the campaign trail. I mean this with all due respect. He’d go to debates and just get lost. I think he did not come across… not a matter of charisma but a matter of not having a strong presence. He just got lost.

MARGARET WARNER: Now he also mentioned inability to raise enough money yet he comes from Florida, a state with a lot of big donors. Was it because he wasn’t doing well in any polling that he couldn’t raise money or what was the problem there?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: It all sort of feeds on itself. I think initially he couldn’t raise money or at least beyond his base in California… I mean in Florida, because of the fact that people thought he wasn’t a winner. Then after each new report, we’re just about to do our third financial report came out it sort of reinforced the idea that this guy is having trouble raising money. Listen, donors don’t like giving contributions to people who they are going to lose. Fairly or not Sen. Graham gained the reputation that he didn’t have much chance of winning.

This latest period that is ending this week his people were saying that he would raise around $2 million — maybe less than that. I mean, a, Howard Dean raised like $14.8 million with an m during this period and then General Wesley Clark who just got in two weeks ago raised $3.5 million. The Clark-Graham comparison may not be entirely fair for various reasons. Nonetheless I think it reinforces the idea that this guy was just going nowhere. Just one other point I would make. A lot of people thought and I think some of the people around him denied this but I actually think there was an element of truth to this.

From the beginning he wasn’t running for president. He was running for vice president. He knew that for various reasons, you know, that he’s not a very charismatic on the campaign stump presence. He had heart surgery right before he came in — that he might not get very far in the presidential competition but as a vice presidential candidate he is very, very, very appealing for a lot of the reasons you and I just talked about.

MARGARET WARNER: So do you think there was any other campaign in the field that woke up this morning and said, well, good, you know, there is an identifiable niche of at least potential Graham voters or donors that now we can go after or was he such a non-factor that….

ADAM NAGOURNEY: No. Voters I was going to say, yeah, both of them but in terms of contributions absolutely. And I think that the first person who is going to be going after money… they all were in Florida but the first person I think is Joe Lieberman. There’s a natural sort of base for him down there both because of the former New Yorkers, heavy Jewish population. I think Lieberman had difficulty raising money where he’s very popular because of the fact that graham was there. That opens up some possibilities in terms of finances for Lieberman and I guess some of the other ones but in terms of votes, he didn’t really… he didn’t have enough support like to give people an opportunity to go out and take votes away from him.

MARGARET WARNER: People weren’t looking for the Graham endorsement. He wasn’t going to deliver any block of voters.

ADAM NAGOURNEY: It’s not bad to get one. One of the interesting things going on here is if you accept the theory that part of what he was doing was running for vice president, some of the other campaigns were beginning to say privately and a little bit publicly that his campaign was sort of bad enough and they were beginning to wonder whether or not they would even want him as vice president and keep in mind that the idea of having someone on the ballot from Florida is extraordinarily tempting to these guys. The fact that people were looking at him and going, well, maybe not, I can understand why he might have thought it was a good idea to get out now while he could.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now step back a bit further and give us just a sense of the state of play. What’s been happening in the Democratic race say in the last two weeks since you were last on the program while most of the media attention politically anyway has been focused on California, has anything shifted? Anything interesting, say, with Wesley Clark who has now been in the race three weeks? What’s going on?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: I should say in terms of full disclosure I am talking to you from Los Angeles where I’m not working on the presidential campaign, which tells you a lot. All my colleagues on the campaign trail are here. I think the main thing that’s been going on over the past two weeks, a, three things, one is the sort of disappearance of graham which people sort of sensed. Second is this reevaluation of Howard Dean.

He’s been the subject of a lot of very tough stories. Interestingly, I think a lot of that is getting lost because of the California phenomenon. And third of all, is Wesley Clark. Wesley Clark has sort of pulled out as sort of the flavor of the month. A lot of… I don’t want to overstate this. A number of Democrats who have sort of been holding back have sort of jump odd to his campaign without really knowing much about him. Those have been the three main developments. As I think I said… I’m sorry.


ADAM NAGOURNEY: As I think I said last time, you know, some of these early polls show General Clark, you know, jumping in the front of the national sort of horse race. I would not read any significance into that. I think we want to watch and see what happens over the next couple of weeks particularly in states like Iowa and New Hampshire which he’s going to need to win or do well in.

MARGARET WARNER: Go back to what you just said about the reassessment of Howard Dean. Where is that taking place? What are you talking about?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: There was a long period when his opponents could not figure out how to attack him because it seemed to me that to attack him made him stronger with his supporters who are unusual people who are new to politics. By this famous example, he was on Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press” program and Russert was very tough on him. Most people in Washington were like this is devastating, the end of Dean’s campaign because he had contradictory answers and said some impolitic things.

Over the next week– and I include myself in that by the way– over the next week his contributions went up. Polls show his standing went up. Attacks on Howard Dean seem to make him stronger because he was running as an outside Washington candidate and the perception that he was being attacked by the quote unquote establishment increased his strength. His opponents were never quite sure how to take him on. You could see it over debates.

They’d be like very gingerly about it. In the past two or three weeks a number of opponents in particular Richard Gephardt, the congressman from Missouri and John Kerry, the Senator from Massachusetts and even John Edwards the Senator from North Carolina who doesn’t have that much of a taste of going after his opponents have been attacking Dean on a whole lot of things in particular statements he made about Medicare and Social Security when he was governor that seemed to be in support of Republican efforts to curtail the growth of the program and the most famous one was he made a statement which might have been blown up a little bit out of proportion, but that’s politics, in which he says that he think the United States should be even handed in this approach to Israel. You see much more critical stuff going on of Howard Dean.


ADAM NAGOURNEY: No problem –

MARGARET WARNER: — we have to leave it there. We’ll be watching the debate Thursday night and see if this continues. Thank you so much.