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GOP: Graham's exit a boon

(ran PW, PS editions of PASCO TIMES)

Larry Klayman figures it's a fitting move for a man who got his start as a dairy farmer.

"Sen. Bob Graham, thank God, is finally going to be put out to pasture," Klayman told a chuckling crowd Monday night at the Spirit of '76 Republican Club meeting at Kally K's Restaurant.

And that leaves an open field for the Senate seat that Graham, a Democrat, held for the past 17 years. Graham announced Monday he would not seek a fourth term.

"I think this absolutely signifies an increased chance for Republicans to take the seat," said Klayman, one of the five Republicans running for Graham's seat. "What will assure those chances is having a candidate that can excite the electorate."

Buoyed by Graham's exit from the race, Klayman tried to drum up support for his own campaign Monday night, touting his credentials as founder of the government watchdog group, Judicial Watch.

The group brought numerous lawsuits against the Clinton administration, including Paula Jones' case against the former president.

But Klayman said he could accomplish more by taking "Judicial Watch inside the U.S. Senate," using Congress' investigative powers to uncover dishonesty within government.

"We can be very, very effective if we use the powers of government to clean up the corruption of government," Klayman said.

The 52-year-old Miami attorney called for term limits for federal judges and a moratorium on allowing immigrants from "terrorist countries" such as Syria, Iran and Iraq. He blamed Graham, who received security briefings as former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for not seeing the warning signs of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The other Republicans in the running include state House speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City; former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum; state Sen. Dan Webster; and Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd.

Klayman's watchdog credentials could come back to bite him, at least with some voters. Judicial Watch has also sued to open records of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force and accused the Halliburton Co. of corporate fraud while Cheney was CEO.

Klayman said he "did the administration a favor" because the media criticized the president as long as the records remained closed. But some voters, such as Bill Bryant, a New Port Richey retiree at the Republican club meeting, might not agree.

"I don't think he could be a friend or asset to the administration by constantly accusing them of unethical conduct," Bryant said.

_ Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhallsptimes.com.

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