Graham told CNN’s Larry King Monday night, ”I have made a difficult decision to withdraw my candidacy for president of the United States of America.”
“I’m leaving because I have made the judgment that I cannot be elected president of the United States.”
Graham told King he had delayed his entry into the race because of his duties in the Senate, most notably as head of the chamber’s Intelligence Committee. The former Florida governor also was slowed, he said, by a major role in the congressional investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and heart surgery in January.
“All of those things combined to make it difficult for us to have the time and to close the gap in organization and fundraising which has lead to this difficult decision,” he said.
At one time Graham’s popularity in electoral vote-rich Florida, coupled with his Senate Intelligence credentials, had led many to believe he was a major candidate. But his low-key style in a race of 10 candidates failed to take hold or bring in major donations.
In his seven months of active campaigning, Graham raised some $5 million, less than half the sum brought in by six of his Democratic rivals. According to campaign staff, he was down to less than $1 million, widely seen as too little to run a national campaign.
Much of his campaign focused on the war in Iraq, a military operation he voted against while in the Senate.
“I voted against the resolution to go to war in Iraq … because I thought it was the wrong war against the wrong enemy, which represented the lesser threat to the people of the United States,” Graham said during a debate in September. “I came to the firm conclusion that the greatest threat to the people of the United States of America, al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the other international terrorists who have demonstrated the will and the capability to kill Americans.”
In July, Graham went so far as to imply that President Bush’s actions in the Iraq war may have been an impeachable offense.
“If the standard of impeachment that the Republicans set for Bill Clinton — a personal, consensual relationship — was the basis for impeachment, would not a president who knowingly deceived the American people about something as important as whether to go to war meet the standard of impeachment?” he asked.
Graham did not endorse any of the nine remaining candidates. He also did not rule out the prospect as running as vice president, saying such a decision would be up to the nominee of the party.
The three-term senator also must decide whether to run for re-election as Florida’s senior senator. In his statement released last night, Graham did not say whether he would seek a fourth term, but did say he would continue to focus on the issues that inspired him to run for the top office in the nation.
“In Florida and across this great nation, I will continue to fight for a more secure America — an America more secure than we have been since September 11th, 2001. We must have greater homeland security, greater economic security and greater health care security,” he said in the statement.
The other candidates still running were quick to praise the senator.
“I will miss seeing Bob Graham on the campaign trail,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said. “He was an honorable opponent who treated his fellow aspirants for the Democratic nomination with respect. I am proud to call him my friend.”
“Senator Graham is a great Democrat, and as the former governor of Florida and Florida’s senior senator, he will play a vital role in helping Democrats recapture both Florida and other essential Southern states. I look forward to Senator Graham’s advice and counsel as the campaign against George Bush moves forward,” Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said in a statement.