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Goodbye to Sen. Graham

Bob Graham announced the end of his long political career Monday in much the same way that he served, with understatement and confidence in his own counsel. Introduced by his wife, Adele, and dressed in jeans for one of his familiar work days, Graham said he would not seek a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. Not even his staff had known what his decision would be until a few hours before the announcement.

His ability to connect with a wide range of Floridians served Graham well for three decades, as legislator, governor and senator. Had he chosen to run again, he likely would have been favored to win, despite growing Republican dominance in the state. By making his decision now, a year before the election, Graham has at least given his party a chance to hold onto the seat. Several Democrats who had expressed an interest in the race should Graham step aside still have enough time to build competitive campaigns.

Yet Graham's decision could have wider implications for the party. Democratic hopes of gaining three more seats and therefore control of the Senate suffered another setback, as Graham joined three other Southern Democrats _ Zell Miller, John Edwards and Ernest F. Hollings _ in announcing they would not seek another term. The loss of Graham will be especially felt by the Senate, where he became one of President Bush's most effective and coherent critics on Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Only a month ago, Graham ended a bid for his party's presidential nomination. Showing no bitterness from that experience, Graham apparently left the door open for the second spot on the ticket, if asked. Otherwise, the Florida native said he is ready to close one phase of his life _ borrowing from Churchill, he called it the "end of the beginning" _ and to move on to another. He said he would seek an academic setting in which he could help address the state's and nation's biggest challenges on education, the environment and health care, and to "enhance the understanding between America and other cultures."

Graham, who will be 67 years old on Sunday, certainly has earned whatever leadership role comes next for him. With steady competence and a streak of independence, Graham served Floridians and all Americans well without seeking to divide us.

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