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Some see Graham as aiming to be Dean's running mate

MIAMI -- Edged out three times in the past to be the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Bob Graham of Florida appears to be positioning himself into contention if Howard Dean tops the ticket.

In the past three weeks, Graham's eldest daughter joined the Dean campaign as a senior adviser, his wife attended a Dean fund-raiser in Miami, and Graham went out of his way to defend the former Vermont governor's foreign policy agenda against a barrage of attacks from his rivals for the White House.

At two Democratic functions, a video has been shown honoring Graham and putting a positive spin on his quirky penchant to scrawl detailed notes in pocket notebooks -- the very habit that some believe eliminated him from vice presidential contention in 2000.

"Those little notebooks that he carries, he writes down the people he meets, their needs and what their issues are, and gets back to them. That's 25 years of note-taking and touching people," said Graham's wife, Adele, during the six-minute video produced by the state Democratic Party. The video also features interviews with daughter-turned-Dean adviser Gwen Logan, singer Jimmy Buffett, and Reubin Askew, former governor of Florida, extolling Graham's legacy as the education governor, an environmentalist, and an aspiring singer with questionable talent as an entertainer.

Though his supporters staunchly deny it, the push by Graham bears characteristics of an organized campaign designed to rehabilitate the image of a once-mythic figure whose short-lived presidential campaign this year exposed political mortality for the first time since he entered the Florida Legislature in the 1960s.

Besides his prominent speaking slots at the state party convention with the major presidential candidates and at last week's Democratic National Committee dinner with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Graham, 67, has performed three of his patented "workdays" this month.

At the state party convention, he met privately with Dean and retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, another war critic who has said he would consider Graham as a running mate.

In his DNC speech, carried live nationally on C-SPAN, Graham called Dean's foreign policy agenda "visionary" -- a clear rebuke to Dean's rivals, who have been questioning his strength as a challenger to the president in the wake of the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The speech publicly crystallized the growing affinity between Florida's retiring senior senator and the unlikely Democratic presidential front-runner -- a closeness derived from shared opposition to the war in Iraq.

While Dean surged to his lead due to opposition to the war among the party base, his criticism now mirrors the position Graham outlined on the campaign trail: that Iraq was a distraction from the larger war on terror and the search for Osama bin Laden.

"I see all the makings of a guy out there rebuilding his strength," said lobbyist Ron Book, a former Graham aide who raised money for the presidential campaign. "If you didn't know better, you'd think he was in the midst of a reelection campaign."

For Graham, the question is a sensitive topic.

It is generally considered tacky and politically unwise to actively seek the vice presidential slot. Presidential candidates often look for a surprise who can give them a quick boost, much like Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut did for Gore three years ago.

Graham, when asked about being a running mate, frequently offers the same response: He wants to help his party any way he can, but the nominee will choose his running mate.

"The vice presidency is not an office you campaign for," said Buddy Menn, Graham's chief of staff and longtime friend.

Indeed, Graham's family and supporters bristle at the suggestion that they are engaged in a calculated campaign to put the senator in play.

A former two-term governor of a state that is more important than ever in presidential politics, Graham has been on the brink of the number two slot before. Viewed as a centrist with southern appeal, Graham made the short lists of Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992, and Al Gore in 2000.

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