LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Florida Democratic Party paid tribute Saturday to its most popular figure — Bob Graham (search) — and the senator took the opportunity to criticize President Bush.
Graham lashed out at Bush for the budget deficit, his environmental policy and the war on Iraq. His speech at the party convention was interrupted by a thunderous chant of "No more Bush."
Graham, who is a retiring next year after three terms in the Senate, dropped his presidential campaign two months ago.
"During my presidential campaign I was frequently accused of being too passionate," Graham said. "I am passionate about the fact that today we are continuing a war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy for the wrong reason. I am passionate about the fact that this president is clueless — clueless — as to our economic future. I am passionate about the fact that even in this feeble recovery we still are not creating the jobs that the American people need."
Graham's speech was preceded by a tribute video featuring his wife, Adele, singer Jimmy Buffett and former Gov. Reubin Askew (search). When Graham finished, state party Chairman Scott Maddox gave him the first annual Bob Graham Award for Excellence in Public Service.
Maddox said later he is promoting Graham as a vice presidential candidate "every chance I get."
"Bob Graham would be an outstanding presidential choice," Maddox said. "He is a lock on 27 electoral votes in my opinion. If Graham is on the ticket then I think Florida will absolutely vote for the ticket."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search), one of seven presidential candidates expected at the convention, agreed Graham would be a good running mate. He said the first factor in choosing a vice president is whether the pick would make a good president.
"I'm confident that he would be on anybody's list," Kerry said.
Florida Democratic activists dropped the idea of a straw poll to indicate their preference for president in exchange for a guarantee that all nine presidential candidates would attend the convention and take questions from delegates.
But Rev. Al Sharpton opted to host "Saturday Night Live" and attend a New Hampshire event; former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun had the flu and was a long shot to attend; and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and former Gen. Wesley Clark gave speeches and then left without attending question-and-answer sessions.
"There are some things that are beyond our control," said Maddox. "The important thing is that our delegates come out of this fired up. That's what we wanted to accomplish with this convention and I think we're off to a great start."
Democratic National Committee (search) chairman Terry McAuliffe predicted unprecedented voter turnout in Florida next year.
"Florida is absolutely critical to the Democratic Party winning the White House. We need these 27 electoral votes," McAuliffe said Friday night. "We're going to have the biggest vote turnout we've ever had here in Florida in 2004."
McAuliffe said the party would retain Graham's seat and was optimistic Democrats could win "a couple of House seats" next year.
"It's going to be a huge turnout operation from all over this state, but a key part of it is having Bob Graham," McAuliffe said. "We have the responsibility of making sure that we have the biggest grass-roots operation we've ever had."