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Graham exits presidential race

WASHINGTON -- Bob Graham, a political veteran whose low-key style didn't gain traction in the crowded Democratic presidential race, said last night he was ending his campaign.

"I'm leaving because I have made the judgment that I cannot be elected president of the United States," he said in announcing his exit from the race on the CNN show "Larry King Live."

He said he had started his campaign too late and had trouble raising money. He said he delayed his entry in the race to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, recover from heart surgery, and wait for the war in Iraq, which he opposed.

Graham, one of the most popular legislators in his home state of Florida, said he has not decided whether he would run for reelection to his Senate seat, which he has held since 1987. He declined to endorse any of his former rivals.

Graham also would not rule out accepting a vice presidential nomination.

"That's not a decision for anyone other than the nominee," he said.

During the campaign, Graham cast himself as the most experienced and electable Democratic presidential candidate, but he struggled near the bottom of the 10-way nomination race and was the first to end his bid.

In seven months of fund-raising, he collected about $5 million, not enough to compete with six Democratic rivals who raised at least twice as much. Graham's advisers said he was down to less than $1 million in his account, not enough to run a strong nationwide campaign.

Some of Graham's top presidential operatives announced in recent days they were leaving, and news articles reported that his campaign may be ending. Graham kept his final decision to end his bid to a close circle of longtime trusted advisers who supported him during his time in the Senate.

Graham did not tell his top campaign staff members, who were left to speculate about the future of their jobs until he appeared on CNN.

Graham had considered running a shoestring campaign focused in only a few states with a small staff. He sounded as though he was committed to stay in the race as late as Saturday, when he told a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, "I will win the presidency by leading America with honor out of the quagmire of Iraq."

Graham based much of his campaign on his vote against the military conflict in Iraq. But antiwar activists preferred Howard Dean's fist-pounding indignation to Graham's calm, measured arguments against President Bush's foreign policy.

Graham's composed manner camouflaged his harsh accusations against the White House. He accused Bush of endangering Americans by abandoning the fight against terror to wage war in Iraq, a country that he said did not pose an immediate threat to the United States.

He said the White House had a "Nixonian stench" and a pattern of keeping information from the American people. He called Bush's tax cuts "immoral" and "an economic dagger pointed at the backs of all Americans."

He went so far as to suggest impeachment.

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