Sophie Conover on Bob Graham
updated 9/20/2003 8:25:24 AM ET 2003-09-20T12:25:24

Saturday, Sept. 20

IOWA ADSThe Graham Campaign anticipates being up on the air in Iowa by the middle of next week, perhaps Wednesday. The ad buy was described as strong enough that the people of Iowa will see it, without saturating the market. Of the half-dozen or so Iowa markets, most of them are included — Des Moines and Davenport are definites. According to Graham campaign media consultant David Eichenbaum, two ads are “in the can.” One of them is 30 seconds, the other is 60 seconds. You can expect one ad to be biographical in nature. It will attempt to introduce the senator and put his life and accomplishments into context with what he’s fighting for. The other ad will deal with priorities. Specifically (you guessed it!), President Bush’s priorities. Look for this to be the ad where the issue of rebuilding Iraq vs. rebuilding America rears its head. Eichenbaum (whose firm produced the ads) advised that the commercials were not negative per se, but they would criticize the president’s policies.

WHAT ABOUT THE STAR?As for Senator Graham’s performance … Eichenbaum said, “I think he is very, very good to camera, very natural. He comes off as someone you can trust.”

YOUNG PROFESSIONALSGraham’s fund-raiser at the Miami Shore Club targeted young professionals. Two more fund-raisers scheduled to take place next week, in New York City and Washington, are aimed at the same group. According to Press Secretary Jamal Simmons, the campaign wants to reach out to people who are energized — and they are especially interested in organizing Floridians to travel to early primary states to “sing the praises of Bob Graham.” The task of finding these special goodwill Graham Ambassadors falls under the purview of the senator’s son-in-law and Florida campaign chairman, Mark Logan.

SENATE STAFF TO THE RESCUE?Graham’s Senate chief of staff, H .W. “Buddy” Menn III, is moving over to the campaign. “He’s a friend of Senator Graham, who has known him for many years,” explained Simmons. “He’ll be a good guide for our finance staff, a good guide for our political staff.” When asked if this move should be taken as a sign that fund-raising efforts were in need of some extra attention, Simmons said, “It’s an important quarter, we’re facing the Howard Dean behemoth … there’s no such thing as too much money.”

Friday, Sept. 19

WELCOME TO MIAMIThursday’s fund-raiser took place at the Miami Sky bar, described by “World’s Best Bars” as the “ultimate Schrager-ville, a gorgeous Moroccan-themed open-air hideaway at the Shore Club Hotel, close to the beach and incorporating two swimming pools with several secluded nooks to sip your flavored martini.” For a mere $100, you too could have mingled with a United States senator in this heady atmosphere of Miami hipness. According to the campaign, approximately 350 people had RSVP’d as of Thursday afternoon … which would mean the campaign was pulling in around $35,000 for the evening. There wasn’t too much overhead for the event since it was a cash bar. I was told the campaign was contributing some bottles of wine, but once those ran out you’d have to buy your own flavored martini!

ONWARD TO MARGARITAVILLEThe campaign announced another glitzy upcoming campaign event (glitzy in a down home kind of way). Jimmy Buffet will headline a fund-raiser for Graham at the Breakers in Palm Beach on Nov. 23. This fund-raiser sets the bar for admission a bit higher than the Sky Bar event. Tickets are $1,000 — and if you could get that money in before the end of the third quarter, I’m sure the campaign would greatly appreciate it.

TODAY ON THE TRAIL

Senator still in Florida with no public events planned.

Thursday, Sept. 18

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GENERAL SUPPORTWhen it comes to the war with Iraq, Clark and Graham share very similar reasons for opposing it. Both men said they thought the administration should have pursued the war on terror in Afghanistan, rather than embark on a new war against (what they perceived to be) a less immediate threat. It remains to be seen whether having Clark espousing the same rhetoric with regard to Iraq will help draw attention Graham’s stance — or drown it out.

UNDECIDED IS IN THE LEADThere’s another presidential debate coming up next week, and this one looks like it could have 10 participants. Which would bring the contenders cumulative time to express their positions down to what, exactly?

When asked for a reaction to a recent New York Times editorial that advocated confining the Democratic presidential debates to the higher-polling candidates, Graham campaign press secretary Jamal Simmons responded, “It seems awfully un-democratic. Are you going to have a slot on the stage for undecided? Because that’s clearly the person who is winning the presidential race right now.”

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, OR IS IT?The Graham campaign is not so sure. Dean is trying to raise some $40 million, but according to Simmons, “There’s more to it than money. Clearly it would be a significant event in the campaign [if Dean succeeded in raising $40 million] but this isn’t all about the Benjamins. It’s about connecting with the voters.” Hmm, so then why has Graham been on a veritable fund-raising bender as of late? “You have to have enough resources to pay for television. TV is neither cheap, nor free. You need to have the money to wage a competitive campaign.”

TODAY ON THE TRAILToday, the candidate in Florida for an evening fund-raiser in Miami. On Friday, he’s still in Florida, but no public events are planned.

Wednesday, Sept. 17

JUMP IN, THE WATER’S FINEThe Graham campaign welcomed the candidacy of Gen. Wesley Clark. Graham has expressed his personal admiration for Clark, on camera, on many occasions. As for his staff, their position appears to be that if Clark has a plan, let’s hear it. “We look forward to a spirited contest. Gen. Clark should explain how he is going to revive the economy, create jobs, and foster one America. Bob Graham has a plan to do all those things,” said Jamal Simmons, Graham campaign press secretary.

FIVE FACTS ABOUT BOB GRAHAM1) He’s never lost an election in his life. 2) His favorite food is Angus steak. 3) He graduated from Harvard Law School. 4) His 10 grandchildren call him Doodle and his wife Deedle. 5) Graham’s favorite all-time Democrat is President Harry Truman.

AGAINST ASHCROFT

As if you needed more evidence that Attorney General Ashcroft is a polarizing figure in U.S. politics, Graham has officially gotten involved in the Ashcroft-bashing game. The senator sent out a statement Tuesday “rebuking” the attorney general for his “verbal assault on constitutional freedoms .. President Bush has run an administration of vast secrecy and one that has constantly stepped on constitutional rights. Attorney General Ashcroft has run a department of intimidation and unfair enforcement. Instead of insulting those Americans who value the First Amendment, they should honor those who stand for our founding principles.”

MISLEADING?

Graham reiterated his contention that President Bush intentionally misled the American people on “Buchanan and Press” on Tuesday evening. Pat Buchanan pushed Graham for evidence to support such a claim, and Graham responded with these: Bush deceived Americans about the diversion of resources from Afghanistan; the consequences of the occupation of Iraq; the imminence of the threat of Iraq’s WMDs; and those famous 16 words from the State of the Union.

TODAY ON THE TRAILIn Dallas with no public events scheduled.

Tuesday, Sept. 16

STICKING UP FOR DAVIS

Graham, along with numerous other big name Democrats, has decided to jump into the spectacle that is the California recall election. The senator will appear in a joint news conference today with Gray Davis in an attempt to ostensibly lend support to the embattled governor. But, hmm, can’t help but wonder who needs the media attention more. According to the campaign’s Mo Elleithee, Graham has two messages for the people of California. First, he’ll stress, as a former governor of a large and diverse state not unlike California, the challenges that Davis has faced. Second, the senator will tell the people of California that the Republicans stole one election in Florida and advise them not to let Republicans steal another. “He knows first-hand what voting irregularities and disenfranchisement can mean for the electoral process,” explained Press Secretary Jamal Simmons.

TODAY ON THE TRAIL

The aforementioned “media availability with California Gov. Gray Davis” at 10 a.m. PT in Los Angeles.

Monday, Sept. 15

FUN WITH FUND-RAISING

Over the weekend, the candidate launched his new Web site: stoptheblankcheck. The site is aimed at raising donations to help elect Sen. Graham, and, of course, helps emphasize the campaign’s message that Graham, unlike some the other Democratic contenders, voted against the resolution authorizing the war with Iraq.

The site lists suggested donation amounts; for each one, there is a corresponding description of how it will impact President Bush. For instance, next to the $25 dollar donation it says, “President Bush, a ‘stop payment’ has been placed on your blank checks.” A $100 dollar donation says, “President Bush, your pickup has been repossessed to help pay down the deficit.”

For those reporters who don’t like traveling to the “Western White House,” a $500 donation might help. According to the site, a mere $500 is enough to start foreclosure proceedings on the president’s Texas ranch. Since neither the ranch, nor the president’s truck, for that matter, are directly tied to the office of the presidency, it remains a little unclear as to why donating to Bob Graham will produce these results.

I’m sure I’m just over-thinking this.

ON THE TRAILIf it’s Monday, it must be Phoenix. On Tuesday, look for an event in Calfornia with embattled Gov. Gray Davis.

Thursday, Sept. 11

INTELLECTS FOR GRAHAMAs far as cerebral goes, the event at the Council on Foreign Relations certainly took the cake. New York Times White House Correspondent David Sanger was the event’s moderator. Both Sanger and Senator Graham sat in armchairs, on a raised dais, before a group of roughly 113 members of the Council.

Marvin Rosen, Graham’s fundraising guru, accompanied the senator to the event (along with a press secretary and an aide) and was heard asking for a list of the members in attendance. Chances are good that if they get asked to contribute, at least some of them might say yes.

One man, who asked to remain anonymous, advised me after the discussion, “I thought Lieberman was a B, I thought he [Senator Graham] was an A.”

Senator Lieberman spoke to the council on Wednesday.

Two women who heard Senator Graham speak told me they thought he was great. “I’d like to believe I lived in a country where a man like this was electable.”

When asked if she would vote for the senator, she said, “absolutely.”

The audience, however, was certainly not representative of the bulk of the Democratic party. To say it was highbrow would be an understatement — there were questions from members of the Brookings Institute, Harvard, and a faculty member of the U.S. Military Academy to name but a few. Graham’s detailed policy positions, before a group such as this, played very well.

ON THE ISSUESFrom the Council on Foreign Relations discussion (The Cliff Notes version)

IRAQ:

Asked by David Sanger how long the U.S. can expect to stay in Iraq….

Senator Graham said, “If the objective that we have is to create a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, and have that democracy then influence the Middle East, I don’t know that any of us here in this room have a life expectancy long enough for that. I think we can begin to do the things that are urgent within the next five years. But we will not have achieved the lofty goals that were talked about before the war in a much longer period.”

“So we should be thinking of the time frame of the Japan and Germany occupation?”

“Yes.”

“And if you were elected president, you believe you would have a strategy together to allow us to become less than the majority force in what time?”

“Well, unfortunately I will not become president until January of 2005, and if we haven’t dealt with this issue of internationalization long before that, then I think we are going to be there for significantly more than 5 years.”

5 years!

NORTH KOREA:

“If the rationale was we were going to take on one of the three axis of evil because they had access to weapons of mass destruction, which either they might use or which they might share with terrorists groups, I think clearly North Korea would be the greatest threat, because not only, it actually has at least two nuclear weapons and the production capability for many more… That’s a country that has the bomb, has a capability which could be enhanced to make the United States a target for the use of that bomb.”

SAUDI ARABIA:

Sanger asked, “Would you fundamentally change the nature of our relationship with Saudi Arabia based on all you know now of the involvement of members of the Saudi royal family or members of the Saudi government in the pre- and post-9/11 period?

“The answer is yes, I think that like some other countries in the Middle East which have given the patina of being our friends but when it really counted were anything but allied with our cause, I think that in the case of Saudi Arabia, we’ve had a policy that goes back to the end of World War II that we would give them security and they would give us a guaranteed source of petroleum. I don’t think that is serving our interests today and we should be prepared to confront Saudi Arabia with some of their transgressions as we would confront any other country which had behaved in the same manner.”

NOT SURPRISEDWhen asked for his reaction to a new Zogby poll showing Howard Dean leading in Iowa, Senator Graham said, “I’m not surprised. I have sensed that Governor Dean’s message was being very well received in Iowa. Iowa as a state is strongly against pre-emptive, or what they would consider to be, unwise military action. Although, they are very supportive of their troops.”

THAT’S IRRITATING

Graham is irritated that he wasn’t able to meet with members of the Service Employees International Union before they made their decision about which Democratic candidate to endorse. And, unfortunately for Senator Graham, he was given some inaccurate information about who, exactly, he was talking to.

“Frankly, I was concerned because the information I had gotten was that the SEIU and AFSCME were going to join together for reviewing candidates and so I went to the meeting of AFSCME and I had assumed that in that audience there were also SEIU people. It turned out that was not accurate and I am a little bit irritated that we didn’t go to the SEIU.”

Wednesday, September 10

IMPLICATING THE PREZSenator Graham is set to mark the two-year anniversary of Sept. 11 with a discussion on the status of the war on terror and national security at the Council on Foreign Relations. Campaign press secretary Jamal Simmons described the event as a serious policy discussion. When asked whether it might perhaps turn political, Simmons said, “When you talk about how the government has not done everything it can to make us safer, you implicate the head of that government, which is the president.”

I’ll take that as a yes.

HE’S BACK

Graham campaign media consultant David Eichenbaum is feeling confident about the campaign’s prospects after Senator Graham’s performance at the Baltimore debate.

He said it’s no secret that in order to remain a viable candidate, Senator Graham needs to have solid third quarter fundraising numbers: “Look, we have some catching up to do and a number of things need to go our way for this to happen.”

Eichenbaum pointed out, however, that the senator hasn’t faced a tough election in years and said his campaign skills may have been a little bit rusty. The campaign’s message (from the communications director to the media consultant) is that the senator has finally gotten his “sea legs” back.

Tuesday, September 9

BLANK CHECKIn his opening salvo of the Baltimore debate, Senator Graham read aloud the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq — which four of his fellow Democrats voted for. “Those who voted for that gave the president a blank check. We can not trust this president with a blank check,” Graham said.

The campaign confirmed this tactic is part of a larger effort to point out the distinctions between the various candidates and their stances on Iraq. Campaign Communications Director Steve Jarding said we can expect to see more of this theme in the future.

As for Senator Graham, he believes “the American people need to understand what it was we were voting on back in the fall of 2002 and what it says about the judgment of the individual candidates to place their trust in a president who was so clearly not trustworthy.”

FIERY BOB

This debate featured a stronger, more impassioned Bob Graham. The campaign was very pleased with his performance, and attributed it to the fact that they were beginning to really hone their message in advance of hitting the airwaves. “He’d say something in the car and we’d say, ‘Say that in a debate.’ There was a bit of tentativeness and a bit of a cautious approach just because he was just getting his sea legs,” explained Jarding. But now….“The senator’s message is coming together, he’s feeling more comfortable, he’s had time to really develop it.” For the record (and in case you missed it) Senator Graham even said, “Hell, No!” in tonight’s debate.

THE FIRST PROTESTER

Senator Graham received rousing cheers for his answer to a question over whether President Bush deceived the American people (his answer, surprise surprise, was yes).

Those cheers were interrupted by the first of many protesters to disturb the candidates throughout the debate.

The rowdy young man, Brian McAndrews, was dragged out of the auditorium. When asked what it was he had been yelling, McAndrews said, “Go after Cheney, only Lyndon Larouche has the guts to go after Cheney. Bush is an idiot, he’s playing jigsaw puzzles.”

CALL TIME

Senator Graham held a conference call on education issues for reporters Tuesday afternoon. The call came in response to President Bush’s trip to Florida, where he toured an elementary school and raised a cool $2.8 million in campaign cash.

“The president didn’t give his education speech today in Jacksonville, he gave it last Sunday night in the Oval Office,” charged Senator Graham. He went on to accuse the president of rebuilding schools in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of in the U.S.

The call really picked up, however, when Graham began fielding questions about whether he would run for re-election in the Senate. The answer appears to be: not right now. “I have made that decision and that decision is that I’m running for president of the United States and I’m not running for any other position,” said the senator. “I’ve told those candidates who have expressed their interest that they should start their engines, begin organizing and fund raising to maximize their chances of success.” Thanks for clearing that up.

Monday, September 8

ON SECOND THOUGHT…

With about 36 hours to go, Senator Bob Graham revealed he would be attending the Congressional Black Caucus debate in Baltimore. According to the campaign, Senator Graham always wanted to attend the debate, but couldn’t because of a “long standing” commitment. Press Secretary Jamal Simmons said that issue was resolved after the campaign was issued a challenge by Senator Graham to find a way to satisfy their goals for the week, which still allowed him to attend the debate.

The host of the fundraiser, however, said Senator Graham personally called him Sunday night to lay out the situation. “He called and basically said, you’ve got it [the fundraiser] planned so if you want, I’ll be there. But there’s this debate and if I’m not there it will look bad,” said Pensacola attorney Fred Levin. “It was our choice.”

Regardless of how the decision was made, the net result is the same. Senator Graham will attend the debate, and the fundraiser planned for him in Pensacola, Fla., will be rescheduled. The event, according to Levin, has been rescheduled for Oct. 7, which happens to be AFTER the 3rd quarter has ended.

HOW MUCH IS THAT DEBATE APPEARANCE GOING TO COST?

The fundraiser was supposed to bring in about $50,000. While the campaign refuses to confirm that number, the host of the fundraiser arrived at that number by estimating that 150-200 people were scheduled to attend, at $250 apiece.

What would you get for your $250? A country dinner with fried fish, baked beans and cocktails. Fortunately, there was no problem rescheduling the event.

WHY IS THIS DEBATE SO IMPORTANT?

“Senator Graham has a very strong record on African-American issues,” explained Press Secretary Simmons, “He doesn’t want to cede ground on those issues to any other candidate.”

WHAT’S THE MESSAGE?

All Jobs, All the Time. The Graham campaign maintains this president has been, “a failure in making jobs.” Senator Graham is going to talk about his Opportunity for All economic plan.

HOW TO PREPARE?

“Bob Graham’s been preparing for this debate for 35 five years,” according to Simmons. “That’s the challenge that other candidates have that Bob Graham doesn’t have, he comes from a state that looks like America.”

Sunday, September 7

PRESIDENT BUSH’S SPEECH

Sen. Graham wasn’t satisfied with President Bush’s speech on Sunday night. After the president’s address, the Senator appeared on “Larry King Live,” where he accused the president of deceiving America by overemphasizing the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. He noted there was no mention of those weapons in Sunday’s address. Graham also faulted the president for failing to discuss an exit strategy, and for spending money to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan that could be used to rebuild America.

QUAGMIRE?

Senator Graham characterized the situation in Iraq as a quagmire over the weekend. He made the comments in an interview on Iowa Public Television’s program, “Iowa Press.” Graham said President Bush should move quickly to seek troops from other nations: “We’d better move as quickly as possible because this quagmire is getting deeper and deeper.”

“The President should have started his remarks with an apology for misleading the American people and the Congress before he launched his preemptive war against Iraq. He didn’t give us all the facts last fall, when he sought an authorization for war, or during the conflict. Tonight’s statement appears to be an effort to rewrite history, especially in linking the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan with the removal of Saddam Hussein from Baghdad.

In a statement, the senator said:

“I hope his appeal for international support to restore order in Iraq is not too little and too late. Clearly, the President’s plan would leave too many U.S. troops in Iraq and have American taxpayers foot the bill. Other nations should contribute troops and money to restore order in Iraq and rebuild its infrastructure. President Bush’s request for $87 billion is breathtaking at a time when the Republican tax cuts have pushed the nation toward record deficits. It is three times the administration’s original estimates of the cost of this conflict, and it is more than the federal government is going to spend on education or on transportation this year.

“Also, he didn’t address who is going to pay the tab — the current generation of Americans, or our children and grandchildren?”

Senator Graham is former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He voted against the resolution to authorize the use of force in Iraq last October, arguing that al Qaeda and other international terrorist networks posed a greater threat to Americans and U.S. interests abroad.

AFSCME/SEIU

It’s not just the Congressional Black Caucus debate in Baltimore that Senator Graham is unable to attend. According to the campaign, scheduling conflicts also prevent the senator from meeting with AFSCME’s international executive board and the SEIU’s political action committee. The groups are hearing from all the other Democratic presidential candidates in the beginning of the week, save Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who met with them a few months ago.

When asked if skipping the events meant the campaign was giving up on an AFSCME or SEIU endorsement, Press Secretary Mo Elleithee said that wasn’t the case. “We’ve talked to them about trying to find an alternative time. We’ve made every effort to try and make it, but couldn’t coordinate schedules. The senator has a long history of being supportive of AFSCME and SEIU issues and the senator is continuing to reach out to their leadership, as well as the rank and file.”

DISSENSION IN THE RANKS

The Florida Sun-Sentinel reports the presidents of two Florida Democratic clubs, the Democratic Club at Century Village and the Kings Point Democratic Club, have called for Senator Graham to drop out of the presidential race, in order to prevent Republicans from picking up his senate seat.

“The vast majority of Florida Democrats are enormously supportive of [Senator Graham’s] campaign,” said Press Secretary Mo Elleithee in response to the report, “We are in this to the end.”

Friday, September 5

SO MANY DEBATES, SO LITTLE TIMESen. Graham will not be attending the Congressional Black Caucus debate in Baltimore on Tuesday. A long-standing fundraising commitment in north Florida prevents him from participating in the event, although his campaign assures me he will be attending the DNC-sanctioned CBC debate. “No one can say Bob Graham has walked away from any constituency group,” said Press Secretary Mo Elleithee. And, as Deputy Communications Director Kristian Denny put it, if the senator were to participate in every single debate he was invited to, that’s all he would be doing. There would be no time for other activities, such as fundraising. Senator Graham has committed to participating in all of the DNC-sanctioned debates.

SCHEDULE

Senator Graham is spending the weekend in Iowa. His only public events are an hour-long education roundtable Saturday, and a steak fry Sunday evening.

Friday afternoon, Senator Graham flew to Iowa after spending the early part of the day making calls and having closed meetings in Albuquerque, N.M.

Originally, Senator and Mrs. Graham had planned on attending a fundraiser in Texas on Friday; this plan was changed sometime on Thursday. Monday, Senator Graham will be in the NY area fundraising.

Thursday, September 4

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

The Graham campaign went into this debate with very reasonable expectations. “If people learn Senator Graham has a comprehensive economic plan and a plan to create jobs,” media consultant David Eichenbaum said of the debate, “then we will have been successful.” By those guidelines, if by none other, the campaign was able to claim some success coming out of the debate.

MEET BOB GRAHAM

There is a sense among the campaign spokespeople that the senator is still playing campaign catch-up (he was the last of the 9 candidates to get into the race). They viewed this debate as another opportunity to make the public aware of the senator, his history and his positions. Senator Graham stressed his accomplishments as Governor of Florida and his work on the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was in response to a question on job creation, the Senator had arguably his best line of the night.

“First, let me say I have done it. For eight years I was governor of one of the largest and most complicated and diverse states in the nation. While I was governor, 1.4 million new jobs were created.”

SERIOUS MANPauline Eisenstadt, former New Mexico state senator was brought into the “spin room” to speak with the press as a supporter of Senator Graham. But even this supporter acknowledged that Senator Graham didn’t exactly electrify the room. When asked how she thought the Senator did in the debate she replied, “I think he did fine. I think he’s a serious man, you ask him a question he’s going to give you an answer.” Well, that’s a good thing, I suppose.

NOT HIS STYLE

When asked if Senator Graham would be drawing differences between himself and his fellow Democratic contenders in the debate (a nice way of saying…will he attack them?) the campaign has consistently said, “that’s not his style.” And, true to their word, neither the senator, nor the campaign (through press releases or “rapid responses”) made any negative statements about the other candidates.

SENATOR GRAHAM ON HIS PERFORMANCE

“Well, I was very pleased. We got questions on issues that I was very anxious to talk about including the state of the economy and what we need to do in order to jump start it, the issues surrounding the war in Iraq and post-war occupation.”

MRS. GRAHAM ON HER HUSBAND’S PERFORMANCE“He did so well. He’s so smart… The two men in front of me turned to each other and said, that man really knows what he’s talking about. And that made me feel really good. It was a good evening, for all the Democratic candidates.”

DON’T FORGET ABOUT WES!

The Draft Clark contingency was spinning away in the spin room. They didn’t have a big white pole with the general’s name on it… However, they did hold aloft bumper stickers.

“No one was able to really break from the pack,” said one of the Draft Clark national coordinators. “The person who wasn’t here, in many ways, may be the strongest person who comes out of this debate.”

Wednesday, September 3

TRAVELING MAN

Senator Graham arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport Wednesday morning for a flight to Oklahoma City. The Senator traveled with an aide, (who’s been on the road with him for 35 days and counting) his wife, a campaign scheduler, and a press secretary. It was a small plane and the Graham group, plus reporters, created a bit of a ruckus.

One man inquired what all the fuss was about, and the senator’s aide explained that Senator Bob Graham was on the plane — and he was running for president. Shortly afterward, the man said he had heard of Senator Gramm, from Texas, right? Ah, no.

WELCOME TO OKLAHOMA

The political machinery in Oklahoma is grinding into gear. Today, the Graham group was greeted upon arrival by the beginnings of their Oklahoma political network.

At this point, it consists of one volunteer, one supporter, and one full-time employee.

Asked about the rest of the Democratic contenders’ Oklahoma organizations, Graham Campaign Oklahoma Communications Director Thomas Purvis said, “Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman each have one employee. Gephardt is supposed to have an employee but I’ve never seen them [at any political events]. Kucinich has a couple, but they might be volunteers. And right now, we’re the only ones who have a real office.”

MEET THE (OKLAHOMA) PRESS

At least four local television cameras and three radio stations were on hand for Senator Graham’s press availability at the Oklahoma Democratic Party Headquarters. Graham opened his remarks by saying he believed the most important and decisive issue in this campaign would be jobs. “We currently have a president who is in a contest, and he’s in a contest with Herbert Hoover to see under which administration the most jobs will have been lost in America.” Graham detailed his plan for the economy, which includes repealing the upper income tax breaks, a payroll tax holiday and substantial federal investments in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

MAIN STREET IN PURCELL

Next stop was about 30 miles south of Oklahoma City. The senator walked down Main Street in Purcell, Oklahoma, for some one-on-one campaigning. Perhaps the funniest moment came when Charlie, a friend of Graham supporter Ben Odum, said, “Senator, if you can convince me to support you, you are a masterful communicator.”

Senator Graham replied, “Charlie, you have laid down a challenge so I can’t back away from it, so now what are you looking for in a president of the United States?”

“I’m looking for someone that really believes in limited government, free market society, greatly reducing the cost and size of the government,” says Charlie. “I’m looking for someone who believes in national sovereignty and not someone who believes in one world global socialist government as seen in the United Nations… things like that.”

At this point, Senator Graham’s Democratic friend interjects that Charlie was his political counterpoint on a radio show… but Senator Graham keeps trying to convince him.

In the end, Charlie wished the senator good luck in the Democratic primaries and Senator Graham says something about getting more Libertarians over to the party. Charlie says, “Oh, I’m not a Libertarian, I’m a Republican,” and Senator Graham laughingly answers back, “Be a Libertarian, it’s got more class.”

Tuesday, September 2

THE EVENT

Senator Graham addressed Representative Jan Schakowsky’s political action committee, Progressive Choices, in Chicago on Tuesday. The Senator was given a warm introduction by the Congresswoman to a group of approximately 30 “Democratic activists, thoughtful people, and leaders.” The group gathered atop the 56th floor of a Chicago skyscraper, with stunning views, to hear Senator Graham speak and to ask him questions over a casual lunch of cold cuts and cookies. Graham opened his remarks with a brief overview of his personal life and accomplishments — emphasizing his record creating jobs and protecting the environment as governor of Florida; and his work on the Senate Intelligence Committee after 9/11.

THE STYLEGraham appeared at ease during the event. He cracked quite a few jokes, and even asked if there was time for a few more questions when Representative Schakowsky tried to bring the luncheon to a close. The event was more policy discussion than rally, and the audience seemed interested, if not invigorated.

One guest, who heard Graham (as well as Senators Kerry & Lieberman, Rep. Kucinich and Fmr. Gov. Howard Dean) said, “His delivery was not as good, but his answers had substance. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Another audience member described Senator Graham’s speech as “Less polished, but more genuine.”

A taste of Senator Graham’s humor:

After paraphrasing one of President Bush’s speeches, Senator Graham said, “Those weren’t his exact words… he probably wasn’t as grammatically correct as I was.”

ON IRAQ

Senator Graham described U.S. foreign policy, with regard to Iraq, as driven by juvenile petulance: “This is not a social event.” If elected president, Graham pledged to speak frankly to Americans about why U.S. forces are in Iraq, and the real human and financial costs involved. The audience clapped when Graham called for an exit strategy that involved a dignified departure from Iraq. This was the only line in his speech that received more than polite applause.

SEABISCUIT SIGHTING…KIND OFGraham, like Ambassador Moseley-Braun and Representative Kucinich, has now joined the ranks of those who have invoked the movie-made story of Seabiscuit while campaigning. Graham didn’t, however, use the racehorse as an analogy for his candidacy. Rather, he brought up the film’s depiction of social and class divisions in pre-Depression America as an example of what he believes is happening in the United States today. Perhaps not coincidentally, Graham’s plan to reinvigorate the economy through investments in the nation’s infrastructure has a distinctly New Deal ring.

STRATEGY

The audience asked a few questions about how Senator Graham planned to get elected and what type of campaign he would run. The strategy he laid out involved doing better than expected in Iowa and New Hampshire, and using that momentum to carry him down to the “Sunbelt States.” As for how he would campaign, Graham said he’d learned a lesson over the past few months: “You don’t run for president, you run to be elected governor in a dozen different states at the same time.”

REACTION

Everyone I spoke with after Graham’s speech had two things in common. They had seen a number of the Democratic contenders address their PAC, and they weren’t committed to any of them. One gentleman said he came into the event with low expectations and came away liking Graham more than he expected to. When asked if the senator had won his vote, he said “No, but he hasn’t lost it, either.”

Another woman summed it up like this: “I like aspects of them all. If we could take some of Graham, some of Lieberman, some of Kerry, you’d probably have a good candidate. But to be honest with you, there’s not one candidate where if you went into that booth today, you’d want to pull that lever.”

Monday, September 1

GET THAT PERSON A STICKER

The Graham campaign is working hard to make their presence felt in Iowa. During Monday’s South Central Labor Day Parade, the Senator was frequently heard uttering the following phrases: I’d appreciate your consideration in January; and get that person a sticker. The two issues are closely connected. In order to be a viable candidate going into Caucuses, the campaign must make Senator Graham’s presence — and message — known. To that end, when a little girl was spotted wearing Kerry and Edwards stickers, she got a Graham sticker too.

PIZZA AND POLICY

Senator Graham arrived late Monday evening in Chicago. After a long day, (marching in a parade, giving a speech, and prepping for the upcoming debate) a casual pizza dinner ensued (pepperoni, for the record). Over the course of dinner, the Senator spoke frankly about the future of Social Security, the troubles with term limits on the Senate intelligence committee, immigration issues, and where he was on 9/11.

There were also a few lighthearted moments. When the host asked what name to put the reservation under, Senator Graham said, “Graham.” He then paused, smiled, and turned to me, adding, “POTUS may be just a bit presumptive yet, don’t you think?”

Sunday, August 31

IF THAT PRESIDENT THING DOESN’T WORK OUT…

Senator Graham appeared to get a job offer Sunday. It involved making pancakes. The Senator so excelled at flippin’ cakes during the Iowa South Central Labor’s pancake breakfast, his co-workers wanted him to come back.

One woman said (regarding the Senator’s prowess with the spatula), “You’re a pro.”

Her fellow volunteer inquired, “What are you doing next year at this time?”

Senator Graham replied, “Well, I hope — ah — I mean, running for President of the United States.” After two terms governing the nation’s fourth largest state, and three terms in the United States Senate, flipping pancakes apparently isn’t so tough.

ON MESSAGEAfter serving breakfast, Senator Graham spent time prepping for the upcoming debate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When asked how he prepared, Deputy Communications Director Kristian Denny said the first thing they do is go over the rules governing the debate. Next, they discuss likely questions and how to best get across their message. And their message for this debate? It’s the economy, stupid! The campaign wants to make sure the public is well aware of Senator Graham’s detailed economic plan.

OH, THE THINGS PEOPLE SAYThe Graham campaign is playing down the significance of a St. Petersburg Times report on an ex-staffer. The staffer, who worked as Graham’s deputy press secretary from 2000-2002, posted a note on a Howard Dean Web site saying Senator Graham is better suited as a running mate than a presidential candidate. According to Deputy Communications Director Denny, the ex-staffer, Javier Betancourt, had little contact with Senator Graham. “He hasn’t worked for Senator Graham in a long time, and he wasn’t someone I would characterize as especially close to the Senator — not by a stretch,” Denny said.

TWO JOBS- ONE MAN.As Congress returns to Washington, six of the Democratic contenders have day jobs to return to as United States Senators and Congressmen. How to handle what could easily be two full-time endeavors? Senator Graham will try and schedule future campaign events around important votes. According to his campaign, the Senator is especially interested in participating in the confirmation hearings for President Bush’s choice to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt.

Friday, August 29

FARMS ON THE FRONT LINES

Senator Bob Graham spent much of Friday talking farm policy. He met with eight family farm owners, spanning three generations, in an effort to listen, learn, and shape his agricultural policy. “To have someone come in and listen the way Senator Graham does is a new thing for them,” says Kristian Denny, Deputy Communications Director. One thing the Senator is clear on already is his opposition to agri-business consolidation. Hunh? In other words, big food processing companies have been driving out the family farmers for years. Now those big companies are getting even bigger, and Senator Graham is asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to do something about it. Denny wouldn’t go so far as to say some of the recent agri-business mergers have been in violation of anti-trust laws, but she did say, “It smells like that sort of thing.” Asked if this policy was geared specifically towards Iowa’s farmers or would be applicable to farmers across the nation, Denny explained, “Senator Graham is listening to Iowa’s farmers because they are on the front lines, but we want to be able to translate the policy nationwide.” And, of course, there’s that Caucus coming up.

WILL THE REAL SENATOR GRAHAM PLEASE STAND UP?

Graham Campaign Press Secretary Jamal Simmons confirmed BusinessWeek’s report that the campaign is attributing an increase in Senator Graham’s negative poll ratings in South Carolina and New Hampshire to a last name mix-up. Simmons says their research indicates voters confuse Democratic Senator Bob Graham with South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham whereas in New Hampshire some voters are thinking of Republican Phil Gramm. Simmons refused to elaborate on what kind of research the campaign had done to come to this conclusion… but if that’s the case—the REAL Senator Graham can’t hit the airwaves soon enough.

HOW THOUGHTFUL!

The Republican National Committee sent out a release with the recent Orlando Sentinel editorial calling for Senator Bob Graham to withdraw… just in case you happened to have missed it! Graham Deputy Communciations Director Denny said in response, “They aren’t happy with Senator Graham because he’s taking on the President in a big way.”

COMING UP THIS LABOR DAY WEEKEND:

Saturday, August 30: Senator Graham gets up EARLY and spends the day working on an Iowa farm in Indianola. It will be his 392 workday. Media avail to follow at 3 pm ET

Sunday, August 31: Flipping Pancakes! Senator Graham’s at the South Central Labor Pancake Breakfast in Des Moines.

Monday, September 1st: Des Moines Labor Day Parade and Picnic.

Parade Kick off at 12p ET

Picnic 1p ET

Thursday, August 28

PAPER TIGER?

After two days in New Mexico, Senator Graham emerges Friday for what will be his second campaign event of the week. The lack of public events doesn’t mean, however, that the Graham campaign has missed the opportunity to criticize the Bush Administration.

So far, the Senator has railed at President Bush on Iraq (their release’s words, not mine); advised Vice President Cheney his “pattern of deception” must end; described the Administration’s handling of the deficit as “immoral”; and questioned the Administration’s motivation in awarding no-bid contracts to Halliburton. The Senator just chose to do it via e-mail.

CYBER-CHAT WITH GORE SUPPORTERS

Senator Graham will participate in an online chat at 9:30 p.m. ET Friday with Al Gore supporters. The live discussion will be hosted by AlGoreDemocrats.com and is the first in a series of town hall meetings with the declared candidates.

Wednesday, August 27

IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE UNDECIDEDS

The Graham Campaign’s response to the latest N.H. Zogby poll (showing Graham with 1% of the vote) was to focus in on the 23% who say they are undecided. “The undecided vote has the most momentum out there,” said Press Secretary Mo Elleithee. He went on to stress, “It’s still really early in the game. As we get our message out there -- once we get on TV and as the Senator travels -- people are going to start responding to our message and moving our way.”

FULL SPEED AHEADAs for the all-important third quarter fundraising numbers, the Graham Campaign expects to beat their second quarter total. Press Secretary Mo Elleithee fielded fundraising questions with the following: “We’re feeling pretty good. We expect to have a solid quarter and to outperform last quarter.” No word yet on when those funds might go towards an ad buy -- although Elleithee said it would happen in the “not too distant future.”

AS NEW MEXICO GOES?Wednesday, Senator Graham made his first foray as a presidential candidate into New Mexico. He held an afternoon meet-and-greet in Albuquerque, and an evening fundraiser hosted by Gov. Richardson. Graham Campaign Western Political Director Alexandria Marcus said the event "definitely exceeded expectations and laid a good groundwork for future visits.” According to the Campaign, approximately 50 Democratic and labor activists, former elected officials, and Native American leaders attended.

When asked to weigh in on which, if any, of the 9 contenders was registering with voters in New Mexico, the Vice Chair of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, Sam Bregman, said, “New Mexico is still very much up in the air… I don’t know that any of them looks any stronger than any other of them.” He also added they’re “thrilled” in New Mexico with the attention they’ve been getting since moving their caucus up to Feb. 3.

Tuesday, August 26

LOOKING FOR FUNDS

Senator Graham continued his fundraising push today in Tallahassee. As the 3rd quarter draws nigh, the Senator is increasingly turning his attention to bringing in the bacon -- figuratively speaking of course. Graham has drawn heavily on his Florida base the past two quarters, and the state capital is filled with many of Graham’s friends and political colleagues.

One such Graham donor (who gave to the Campaign in the second quarter) characterized the current situation, however, like this, “No one will ever out-work Bob Graham to be elected. But it seems to me a tremendous uphill battle and I don’t think he can overcome the leads already set up by some of the other candidates.” When asked why they chose to donate in the first place, this contributor explained, “It wasn’t for the charisma, I’ll tell you that. But I believe Bob Graham is highly qualified and would serve this nation well.” The donor wouldn’t rule out giving more money to Graham’s campaign, but said something “drastic” would probably have to happen in order for that to occur.

But Dubose Ausley, a long time friend and supporter of Senator Graham had a different take on the situation. “I quit doubting Bob Graham 25 years ago,” he said. Ausley co-hosted one of the Tallahassee fundraisers and he described the event as a drop-by, “You drop by and bring your check between 5 and 8.”

FRIEND OF A FARMERThe Graham campaign is planning a farm work-day for this Saturday. Details are still TBA, but will likely involve Senator Graham waking up early and getting his hands dirty.

The farm work-day dovetails with Graham’s larger effort to court Iowa farmers and his campaign’s rural strategy in general. “Bob Graham’s message translates easily to the rural people of Iowa,” explained Graham Campaign Iowa Director Jessica Vanden Berg. Vanden Berg cited Bob Graham’s 4H membership and the fact that he raised Angus cows as further evidence of his kinship with Iowa farmers. The Graham campaign maintains it is serious about “revitalizing” rural communities. Iowa farm advocate Kevin Miskell has signed on as Graham’s Director of Rural Outreach for Iowa, and the campaign has posted a petition on its Web site asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to oppose consolidation of corporate agribusiness.

ATTACK THE ADMINISTRATION-NOT THE COMPETITION

Graham issued three statements criticizing the Bush Administration today (on Iraq, on the deficit, and on the VP’s refusal to release energy task force documents). There was no response, however, from Graham on Howard Dean’s policy shift towards Cuba. Click here for Miami Herald coverage

Graham Campaign Press Secretary Jamal Simmons issued the following written statement on the matter: “Other candidates who have not had to manage complex international issues might think this is a simple problem to resolve. However, Bob Graham has spent decades with people who lived under Castro’s regime and saw America as a beacon of hope that they were willing to risk their lives to reach. He has deep convictions built up over years as Governor of Florida and a Senator on the Intelligence Committee. Some other candidates may still be working through these issues and maybe need a bit more time to reach a definitive position, but it sounds like they are headed in the right direction.”

For the record, Senator Graham believes we ought to "do a dance" with Cuba. The dance consists of Cuba making some steps on human rights and the U.S. making some steps on normalizing relations.

Monday, August 25

Senator Bob Graham met “a small group of Democratic donors” for dinner in Puerto Rico on Monday. The senior senator from Florida traveled to the tropical isle without much baggage… Only two campaign staffers accompanied Graham on this trip.

No word yet on when Senator Graham will definitively declare whether he’s planning on running for the Senate next year, but things are already starting to get ugly among the Democrats vying for his seat.

At a Democratic forum in Leesburg on Sunday, one Democratic Senate hopeful, Cong. Peter Deutsch, accused fellow contender Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas of being a pathological liar and a party traitor. See here for the Orlando Sentinel's story.

Campaign Press Secretary Jamal Simmons chose to stay above the fray when asked to comment on the incident, describing both men as “friends of Senator Graham.”

Speaking of friends… When asked for reaction on the possibility retired General Wesley Clark might enter the race, Graham Press Secretary Jamal Simmons said, “I think Wesley Clark would make a great Vice President for Bob Graham.”

We’ll be sure to let him know.

MSNBC's Sophie Conover is embedded with the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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