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Graham files papers for presidential campaign

Florida Democrat won't seek re-election to Senate

Sen. Bob Graham
Sen. Bob Graham

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Bob Graham of Florida filed papers Thursday to form a presidential campaign committee, an aide said, becoming the ninth Democrat to step into the race for his party's nomination to capture the White House.

"I intend to be the Democratic nominee for president," Graham said in a statement. "I am the best prepared to lead and the most able to win."

By bypassing the exploratory "testing-the-waters" committee and going directly to the campaign committee, Graham will have greater flexibility in fund-raising and spending.

"He's running," said Graham spokesman Paul Anderson. "The only question is when he will get out there on the road."

Graham, 66, who plans no public announcement today, is waiting for a green light from his doctors before hitting the campaign trail.

He had extensive heart surgery to replace a deteriorating heart valve on January 31, and said just a week ago that he planned to form an exploratory committee and formally announce his candidacy by April.

Graham aides said the senator filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in Washington and articles of incorporation in Florida, where his campaign will be based.

Anderson said major staff announcements, including campaign manager and top fund-raisers, may be made as early as today. The campaign's headquarters will be in Tallahassee.

A former governor and three-term senator, Graham is a popular figure in Florida, a key battleground state in presidential elections, and the state that ultimately put George W. Bush in the White House.

Graham's spokesman says his decision to run for president means he will not be running for re-election in Florida, a move that complicates Democratic efforts to recapture control of the Senate.

He is up for re-election next year and a decision not to run greatly improves Republican chances to pick up a Senate seat in Florida.

"He is fully committed to the presidential race and does not intend to be a candidate for Senate because he expects to be the Democratic presidential nominee," Anderson said. Graham has time to change his mind, however.

The filing deadline for Senate candidates in Florida is July 1, 2004.

The other eight candidates have formed exploratory committees.

The former governor of Florida joins U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and the Rev. Al Sharpton on the crowded list of Democratic hopefuls.

And the roster could still grow larger -- Connecticut's other senator, Chris Dodd, and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who ran in 1984 and 1988, are also considering their options.

-- CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

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