Interview with Sen. Bob Graham
Sen. Bob Graham spoke with DEMOCRACY IN ACTION during his "Graham Family Vacation" RV tour in Iowa on August 10, 2003.  The interview took place at the Midwest Old Time Threshers' Heritage Museum in Mt. Pleasant and on the RV as he headed to his next event.  Graham's campaign has not appeared to make much headway according to polls.  Currently, Gov. Howard Dean, who just made the covers of Time and Newsweek, is seen as the "hot candidate."  Nonetheless, Graham is the most experienced candidate in the race, having first been elected to public office in 1966.  He has gained a breadth of experience through his workdays.  Graham has emerged from a crowded field in past campaigns, and the parable about the tortoise and the hare may be an apt one to describe his position in this campaign.
QUESTION: What is your first memory, going as far back as you can, of a politician or a political event?

GRAHAM: Well that's an easy question for me to answer because I was born in the week that my father was first elected to the Florida State Senate.  My mother says she spent her whole pregnancy going to political events.  So my first impression was in the womb.

QUESTION: What exactly do you remember from back then?

GRAHAM: With great precision and depth I remember lots of things from the womb...  So my first remembrances were my dad's campaign.  Our family has been in the dairy business for over 70 years and when my dad would have a political rally he would typically hand out half pint cartons of chocolate milk, and my job was to hand out the chocolate milks.

QUESTION: How about your first campaign?  What do you remember about the first time you ran  -- I guess you ran for high school -- ?

GRAHAM: Well my first campaign was for the junior class president of Miami Senior High School, and the main event was an auditorium session with all the members of the junior class and each of the candidates got two or three minutes to say whatever they thought would be persuasive.  I had come from a junior high school that was not a normal feeder school of Miami High so I didn't know as many of the students as some of the other candidates. And so I decided that I needed to say something that would be memorable. 

So I told a story, and the story was about two golfers.  And one of them hit a ball into a sand trap and it landed on top of an anthill.  So the golfer goes into the anthill, takes a big swing, misses the ball, which falls back into the hole he's created, but killed half the ants.  So he takes another big swing.  Same thing.  Misses the ball--falls down, kills another 1,000.  There  are now only two ants left and one ant turns to the other and says, Joe, if we're going to get out of this alive, we better get on the ball.  So that was what launched my political career.

QUESTION: Do you remember anything from your first campaign for elective office?

GRAHAM: Yes.  That was 1966.  Florida had one of the most mal-apportioned legislatures in the country.  Florida had a very mal-apportioned legislature and in the mid-60s there were a series of court challenges that required reapportionment.  When one of those successful challenges resulted in Dade County, which is Miami, going from a handful of legislators to 22 legislators, I was persuaded to run and was very enthusiastic about running.

The thing I most remember about it was that there were 400 candidates running for the legislature.  It was almost like California's recall thing.  And so the big thing you had to do was to try to differentiate yourself and that meant particularly getting the endorsement of major groups like the teachers organizations and labor and business groups.  So it was a campaign very focused on an endorsement strategy.  I was nominated in the Democratic primary, which at that time was tantamount to being elected.  Six months after I was elected, actually only about two months after I was elected the court declared our apportionment plan to be unconstitutional, so we all had to run a second time.  But at that point you had the benefits of being an incumbent, even though you'd only been an incumbent for 60 days.  And I was elected again.

QUESTION: Did you have a mentor or somebody who--well your father?

GRAHAM: Well my father would have been my most significant mentor.  My dad died in 1964 so he was not with me when I won my first elective office.

QUESTION: How about your toughest campaign?

GRAHAM: Well the toughest campaign was the governor's campaign in '78 where we started sixth out of seven candidates -- not very well known.  I was a state senator from Dade County.  The other candidates were a former governor, the current lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and the mayor of the largest city in one other candidate like myself who wasn't very well know.  So it was very much an uphill battle. 

One of the things that helped to get us some recognition and traction was the workdays.  Do you have one of the workday calendars?  You'll see that a lot of those workdays, the first hundred were done between the spring of 1977 and the fall of 1978.

QUESTION: What was the toughest workday you ever did?

GRAHAM: Well I would say physically the most difficult job was working on a bridge project in the Florida Keys, where I was a concrete cutter, which meant that you used a machine very much like a chain saw except instead of cutting wood you were cutting concrete.  Very dangerous and physically difficult. 

From the standpoint of a job that I felt I couldn't complete, it was a job working in Orlando at a center for multiply handicapped children.  My children at that point were about the same age as the children in the school and I found it to be very difficult to do that without transferring your own children into the faces and bodies of those children who were suffering such serious disabilities.

QUESTION: What have you learned from running for president?  This is your tenth? this your tenth campaign?

GRAHAM: Well let me see here.  I'm going to have to go back and count.  '66, '67, '68, '70, '72, '76, '78, '82, '86, '92, '98...  I think it's my 11th; no this will be my 12th.  I've been in eleven races.

QUESTION: What's different about running for president?

GRAHAM: Well running for president is, although it sounds like it's one campaign -- running for president -- it actually at this stage is about six to 12 campaigns.  We're running an active campaign in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, in Oklahoma, in Arizona, in Tennessee, and as well as Virginia.  And each one of those has its own special requirements and characteristics, so you've got to be able to allocate your time and your resources to compete in all those areas and have familiarity with what works in one state that might not work someplace else. 

As an example Iowa and New Hampshire are very personal campaigns.  People want to meet you; they want to feel as if they know you and then hopefully they will feel sufficient confidence that they will support you.  Some of the other states are more television oriented.  A state like Arizona is quite a bit like Florida with both a large retirement population and a large Hispanic population.

QUESTION: Does the process make sense?  It sometimes appears that you're jumping through hoops--you've got the NAACP forum, you've got the League of Conservation Voters, you've got the AFL-CIO forum...  Is this the best way to elect a president?

GRAHAM: What was it Winston Churchill once said that Americans will always get it right after they have exhausted all the wrong ways.  I think that for a large, diverse nation like America the fact that the first two primaries, which have an exponential influence, are in relatively small states which have this tradition of highly personalized politics, serves America's interest.  The voters in Iowa are not going to make their decision exclusively on what they will see on television, which is the case in most large states, but rather they will actually feel a personal contact with the candidates and will make the decision based on that intimate relationship.  They're also states where there's an unusually high level of civic awareness.  People ask good questions, which I hope is good for the questioner by giving them information as to how the candidate feels.  I can tell you it is good for the candidate because it sharpens your understanding.

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Copyright © 2003 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action