Bob Graham, Former Florida Governor and Senator, Dies at 87


Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who as a little-known state senator mucked out stables and waited on tables in a clever populist strategy that helped to boost him into the governorship, the United States Senate and a run for the presidency, has died. He was 87.

His daughter Gwen Graham posted a family statement announcing his death on social media on Tuesday night. It did not say where or when he died or provide a cause. Mr. Graham was disabled by a stroke in May 2020.

The son of a Florida state senator, Mr. Graham had gained little political traction after 13 years in the State Legislature. He seemed destined to rise no higher than his father. Then he had an idea. Besides his official duties, he resolved to work eight hours a day in hundreds of mostly entry-level jobs to bond with his constituents. He performed what he called “Workdays” off and on for the rest of his career.

He was, for a day, a short-order cook, a bellhop, a social work aide, a plumber. He saw a murder victim on a night riding with cops. He was a department store Santa, a citrus packer, an office temp and applied for food stamps. He picked tomatoes under a broiling sun, filled potholes, collected garbage, cut down broken tree limbs after a storm, was a circus clown and did housewives’ chores.

Voters and the press, especially television news programs, loved it, and he limited reporters’ access to show he was seeking insights into working lives, not pulling stunts. Whatever his motives, “Workdays” became a campaign staple, enabling Mr. Graham to win two terms as governor (1979-1987), three terms in the Senate (1987-2005) and a heady but hopeless run for the White House in 2003.

When he retired from the Senate after 38 years of public life, Mr. Graham, an obsessive diarist of minutiae that read like an hourly log, had itemized all his “Workdays” experiences as well as his activities as governor, senator and presidential aspirant. The record showed that, outside his official duties, he had worked in 921 more-or-less ordinary jobs in 109 cities and five states.

The political allure of “Workdays” had long ago faded, of course, but almost every published profile of him mentioned it, along with his quirky diary, courtly manners and tendency to be long winded. Still, he promoted “Workdays” to the last. Announcing his presidential candidacy, he said he would resume the practice in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“I have a reputation, that is not undeserved, as being more of an understated person, and I’m not easily aroused to fervent, some people would say charismatic levels,” he said in a campaign interview with The New York Times. “But I think maybe what the American people want right now is someone who can give them a sense of steady leadership, as opposed to an emotional jolt.”

He had always relied on steady progress. As Florida’s 38th governor, he won high marks for educational strides in public schools and universities; economic programs that added 1.2 million jobs and raised per capita income above national averages for the first time, and environmental policies that brought fragile lands like the Everglades under state protection. He was easily re-elected in 1982, and left office as one of Florida’s most popular politicians, with an 83 percent voter-approval rating.

In the 1986 Senate election, he beat the incumbent, Senator Paula Hawkins, by a 55-to-45 percent margin, and won re-elections over Bill Grant in 1992 and Charlie Christ in 1998 with about two-thirds of the votes. He was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during and after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the worst in American history, killing some 3,000 people.

After the attacks, he became a national spokesman on intelligence and security issues, and a severe critic of President George W. Bush and his administration’s response to terrorism and its long and costly involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Graham and 22 other Senators voted against the invasion of Iraq by an American-led coalition in 2003 — an attack rationalized by Mr. Bush’s claims that Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein supported Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction that would menace the West. Mr. Graham led the joint Congressional investigation into 9/11, which in 2004 found no evidence of any ties between Hussein and Qaeda. Weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq.

Throughout Mr. Graham’s Senate years, his name was raised in vice presidential politics. He was called a possible running mate to Michael Dukakis in 1988, to Bill Clinton in 1992, to Al Gore in 2000 and to John Kerry in 2004. Mr. Graham disclosed his own candidacy for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination in December 2002.

But it was a short dream. Within weeks he had open-heart surgery and the campaign faltered. He withdrew from the race in October 2003, and a month later said he would not seek re-election to the Senate in 2004. He retired when his term ended in January 2005.

A full obituary will follow.

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