2 hours, 58 minutes ago
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Democrat Bob Graham is weighing the future of his presidential campaign as he struggles with finances and ranks near the bottom in polls.
Graham spokesman Mo Elleithee said the Florida senator is staying in the race. But Graham's future in the crowded Democratic field remained in doubt as the campaign made several staff changes and held a series of high-level meetings Thursday.
The day was filled with mixed signals. Initially, the Graham campaign announced a news conference for 2 p.m. Friday, suggesting he would quit the race. But late Thursday, the campaign and the Florida Democratic Party said there would be no news conference.
"Senator Graham has decided to soldier on," said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox.
A Democratic source, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said the three-term senator had informed one of his Senate colleagues that he was getting out of the race.
Elleithee disputed that account and said Graham had not talked to anyone in the Senate about getting out.
"He's staying in the race," Elleithee said.
Some staffers were told by campaign officials that Graham was mulling the decision, but they were resigned to losing their jobs. At least one staffer left amid the speculation about Graham's future.
"This was just the right time for me to move on," said Jamal Simmons, who served as spokesman for the campaign.
An official close to Graham said he is letting go of several other staff members, some of them senior aides.
Graham, one of the most popular leaders in his home state, has struggled near the bottom of the 10-way Democratic presidential primary. He trails most of his rivals in fund raising and polls, and some advisers want him to quit the race.
Others on the campaign want him to focus all his attention on Iowa, site of the nation's first caucus in January, in hopes of a top-four finish. Then he could be the alternative to front-runner Howard Dean in the southern state primaries.
Elleithee said the staff discussed whether to continue with an Iowa strategy or shift to a Southern strategy that focused solely on later contests in the primary calendar.
Graham, leaving one of several staff meetings, said, "We'll make a decision shortly."
Graham is expected to report raising around $2 million in the three-month period that ended Tuesday, which probably will place him behind six of his rivals. He had raised $3.1 million to date.
Graham called off a fund-raiser Thursday night in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Spokesman Paul Anderson said Graham canceled the event in hopes of making a Senate vote. When he could not get a flight in time, Graham decided to remain in Miami Lakes Thursday night. A Friday evening fund-raiser in West Palm Beach will still go on, Anderson said.
Graham has a strong resume — he is a former state legislator and two-term governor who served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He opposed military strikes against Iraq, arguing that the Bush administration abandoned the war on terrorism to pursue war with a country that is not an immediate threat to the United States.
But his low-key style has yet to attract a large following, while fellow war opponent Dean surges in the polls and fund raising, and other candidates attract more support from party insiders.
Associated Press writers Will Lester in Washington and Coralie Carlson in Miami contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Bob Graham: http://www.grahamforpresident.com