Graham to Join Presidential Race

Fresh from heart surgery, Florida Sen. Bob Graham has decided to form a presidential exploratory committee and will file his papers with the Federal Election Commission next week, he said Thursday.

Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a gaggle of Florida reporters on Thursday that he is ready to run as soon as he's healthy.

"I am very forward-leaning about the campaign for president," Graham said in a conference call from his daughter's home in Virginia, where he has spent the last two weeks recuperating from surgery to replace his aortic valve. He is expected to return to work in the Senate next week.

"The only remaining question is the issue of getting medical clearance to do so," he said.

Graham's aortic valve was replaced with a valve from a cow. Doctors also performed "discretionary" double bypass surgery to close a hole between the chambers of his heart.

"The effect of doing this preventative maintenance work, I have every reason to believe, is going to lead me to be more energetic and give me the peace of mind that I will not have to repeat this surgery hopefully for the rest of my life and certainly not for the foreseeable future," the 66-year-old senator said.

Graham, who voted against the war resolution granting President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, announced last week that he would be throwing in his name. He was immediately lauded by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who called Graham a "very qualified, very valuable member of [the Democratic] caucus.

"I respect him personally and expect him to add more to the debate," added Daschle, who decided earlier this year not to take his own shot at the presidency.

Graham said he hopes to announce his campaign in late March after doctors give him the OK. In the meantime, he said he is putting together a Florida-based staff to begin fund raising.

Graham would be the ninth Democrat either to announce or indicate plans to run. He made his intentions known one day after Rep. Dick Gephardt announced his candidacy and two other Democrats, former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to begin raising money. Both Graham and another candidate, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, are recuperating from surgery; Kerry underwent prostate surgery last week.

Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, John Edwards of North Carolina, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and civil rights activist Al Sharpton are also in the race.

Graham has been an outspoken critic of White House policy on terrorism and has played a prominent role as a leader of the congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the failure of the government's intelligence operations. The investigative role was recently turned over to an independent commission.

Graham has said he opposed the resolution on using force against Iraq because he thinks it shifts the necessary focus away from Al Qaeda and other terror groups that the United States should be actively pursuing.

The former governor of Florida, sure to be a key state in the next presidential election, was on Al Gore's short list of potential vice presidential picks in 2000 but ultimately was passed over, in part sources said because of the meticulous diaries he keeps.

Graham has kept detailed — critics have suggested bizarre — diaries of every aspect of his daily routine for decades. The diaries include such things as the times of restroom visits, deliberation over wardrobe and other minutiae.

Fox News' Carl Cameron and Julie Asher contributed to this report.