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Suspense over: Graham retires

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democratic icon who connected with Floridians through his trademark "workdays," announced Monday he will not run for a fourth term.

Quoting Winston Churchill, Graham, a former governor, said it was "the end of the beginning" of his career. He plans to write a book, spend more time with his family and create an academic center to nurture new leaders.

"I have had a full and joyful and, I hope, productive life," Graham said. "I intend to have other chapters."

Graham, 66, had been leaning toward retiring from the Senate since he abandoned his presidential campaign a month ago, aides said. But he delayed the final decision until last weekend when he finished consulting with friends, Democratic colleagues and family.

"I love public service," Graham said, citing his record protecting the environment, helping senior citizens and strengthening homeland security. But he said that at this stage of his life, he wanted to "continue my romance of 44 years with my wonderful wife" and would rather pursue his goals "from the private sector than from the Senate."

Graham made his announcement during a workday at a construction project at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee. He spent the morning riveting sheet metal and then, during his lunch break, held a news conference on the edge of the school's football field.

He was ruddy-faced from working in the bright sun, but he showed little emotion as he delivered his speech in a halting, low-key style.

He said he chose to make his announcement during his 391st workday since 1974 because the monthly events _ in which he actually labors for a fully day _ have been a focal point for his political career and kept him in touch with Floridians' needs.

As governor from 1978-86, Graham earned weak reviews (and the nickname "Governor Jell-O") for being indecisive in his first term. But in his second term, he got high marks for his work on education, economic development and the environment.

As a senator since 1986, he earned a reputation as a moderate Democrat who focused heavily on Florida's interests. In the last few years, he served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and surprised many people with his sharp criticism of the Bush administration. He dropped out of the presidential campaign a month ago, saying he got into the race too late.

Graham won praise Monday from people in both parties.

Presidential candidate Howard Dean said Graham "had the courage to ask the right questions last year when so many other lawmakers gave President Bush a blank check to invade Iraq."

Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement that Graham "has been an advocate for the people of Florida and has fought for the principles in which he so strongly believed."

Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Sarasota, said Graham "has established the benchmark for bipartisan, common-sense leadership. As Florida has experienced a tremendous period of growth and change, his steady hand at the tiller has remained one of the secrets of our success."

Writing books

Graham returned to Washington Monday night.

He said he would spend his final 14 months in the Senate "helping American rebuild America," a plan from his presidential campaign to improve the nation's infrastructure.

His decision to leave the Senate is a serious setback for the Democratic Party. Without Graham, who had been a heavy favorite for reelection, there will be a rough-and-tumble primary. The eventual nominee may have difficulty winning Florida, which has become increasingly Republican.

Graham is the fourth Southern Democrat to retire from the Senate for the 2004 cycle, along with Zell Miller of Georgia, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina and John Edwards in North Carolina. Republicans are considered likely to pick up some _ or all _ of those seats.

But Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he believes his party would retain Graham's seat because the party's candidates are "from the mainstream" while the Republicans are "from the ex-treme."

Graham did not endorse a successor Monday but said there was a "very strong field of Democratic candidates."

Asked if he was willing to be a running mate to a presidential candidate, Graham said, "I am committed to work for the election of the Democratic nominee in whatever position I am asked to do so."

Graham said he wanted to establish "an institution whose objective is the preparation of the next generation of leaders for Florida." He said it would be nonpartisan and probably be affiliated with a university.

He said he has several books he wanted to write.

He has always wanted to write a high school civics textbook and update a book he wrote many years ago about his experiences during workdays. He said Monday he'd also like to write a book about his views on the intelligence failures that led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

A lover of statistics

Aides say Graham began seriously considering retiring from the Senate a month ago when he dropped out of the presidential campaign.

During a barbecue at the home of his daughter and son-in-law in Great Falls, Va., Graham told his family and close advisers that he was leaning toward retiring. But he said he wanted to discuss his decision with friends and colleagues.

Always a lover of statistics, Graham, who turns 67 on Sunday, was keenly aware of his life expectancy. He had heart surgery in January and said he was aware the average male lives to be about 80. He wanted to make the best of his final "chapter."

Three weeks ago, when he was back in the day-to-day routine of the Senate, he seemed more interested in running for a fourth term.

A week ago, Graham, with his usual numerical precision, told chief of staff H.W. "Buddy" Menn that he was leaning 53-47 toward retiring. As the week wore on, the senator seemed more comfortable with his decision. "There was a bounce in his step," Menn said. "He was almost bubbly."

Graham held the decision very close, telling only his family, Menn, communications director Paul Anderson and longtime friend Buddy Shorstein.

"He was really torn," said Graham's wife, Adele. She emphasized that he was leaving the Senate but was not becoming a retiree.

Graham still plans several workdays in the next two months to make up for ones he missed during his recovery from heart surgery and the presidential campaign.

After his announcement Monday, he climbed into a big front-end loader to complete his work at the school.

He drove the big machine back and forth, using the huge shovel on the front to dig up the athletic track, as David Raker, a heavy equipment operator, shouted advice from the sidelines.

With each pass, Graham seemed to get a better feel for the huge device.

"You're getting it now," Raker said.