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Grind Extra: And then there were nine

Other candidates very quick with statements of regret

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Editor

Other candidates very quick with statements of regret

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Sen. Bob Graham of Florida dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination Monday night.
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Ten never quite felt right anyway.

The '04 Dem field returned to a group of nine last night when Bob Graham quit his uphill '04 bid, telling CNN's Larry King that he's withdrawing because he can't raise enough money and doesn't believe he can win.

"I have made the judgment that I cannot be elected president," Graham said, citing his late start, which resulted from heavy Senate responsibilities and heart surgery early this year. "All of those things combined to make it difficult for us to have the time and to close the gap in organization and fund raising -- which have led to this difficult decision."

The senator acknowledged that fund raising was particularly arduous. "We did not have the time to lay the foundation across the country in order to finance what is a very expensive campaign," he said.

Graham, who was in Washington for the interview, then held a conference call with his entire staff, thanking them for their work and offering to help them relocate. Aides in Miami Lakes planned to come into the headquarters this morning to start clearing out their offices.

During the CNN interview, Graham, 66, said he hasn't decided whether to run for re-election to the Senate, although he said he would make that decision "very soon." He would not say whether he would endorse a fellow Democrat in the presidential campaign, but he said he would not require whomever he ultimately endorses to have opposed the war in Iraq.

While Graham had told few people yesterday of his plans (senior campaign staff didn't learn until the interview began with King at 9:50 p.m. EDT), his campaign had been beset for weeks by low poll numbers, financial woes and rumors of staff departures. His spokesman, Jamal Simmons, resigned last week and is expected to join another '04 campaign. Other departures were expected shortly.

Reflecting how widely anticipated Graham's announcement had become, three '04 rivals released statements within 10 minutes of the Senator's interview on CNN.

• First out of the box was John Kerry, whose statement was sent out at 10:01 p.m. EDT. Kerry said he was "disappointed" that Graham had decided to quit because he "brought an important perspective to this campaign that will be missed."

• Next up was Joe Lieberman, whose statement arrived one minute later. Lieberman called Graham a "patriot and a great Democrat" whose "voice made this contest richer and more thoughtful."

• Dick Gephardt called Graham a "gifted national leader and a model public servant."

• Wesley Clark said he looked forward to receiving Graham's advice and counsel as the campaign against George Bush moves forward."

And so on.

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