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Former Florida Governor, Senator Bob Graham Dies at 87

Bob Graham, Florida’s former Governor and U.S. Senator for over two cumulative decades, has passed away at 87 years old. He died while residing in a retirement community in Gainesville, with the Tallahassee Democrat listing his cause of death as ‘old age’.

Graham is the fourth most recent Democrat to hold the governorship of Florida, a post he held from 1979 to 1987. He then resigned to successfully run for U.S. Senate, which he held from 1987 to 2005. From 2001 to 2005 he formed a Democratic hold over the state’s Senate seats alongside Bill Nelson.

Before his career in politics, Graham was born in Coral Gables, Florida to a teacher and a state senator. He graduated from Miami Senior High School in 1955, and then earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Florida in 1959. He’s go on to also earn a Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1962.

The first foray into elected office for Graham came in 1966, when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He’d serve there until 1970, when he won election to the Florida Senate. Then, in 1978, Graham ran for Florida Governor against businessman Jack Eckerd, a Republican. Graham won with 55.59% of the vote, a margin of 282.6k voters.

1.2 million jobs were added in Graham’s first term as governor, and he went on to purchase thousands of acres of land for environmental protection. By the end of his time as governor his approval rating had reached 83%. He then sought election to the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Senator Paula Hawkins, a Republican.

Graham bested Hawkins in the 1986 Senate election, and would go on to be re-elected twice. In 1992 he beat Bill Grant, and in 1998 he beat future Florida Governor Charlie Crist, then still a Republican. As Senator he led the joint congressional investigation into the September 11th terrorist attacks, as Chair of the U.S. Senate Select Committee of Intelligence. He later opposed the subsequent invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration.

He was reportedly considered as a potential nominee for Vice President on the Democratic ticket in 1988 by Michael Dukakis, 1992 by Bill Clinton, 2000 by Al Gore, and 2004 by John Kerry. He ran for President of the United States himself in the 2004 election, seeking to challenge George W. Bush. Graham ultimately withdrew before the primaries began, having recently had heart surgery. He’d subsequently retire from the Senate in 2005.

After his political career ended, Graham was heavily involved in higher education. He was a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics for the 2005-06 academic year, and founded the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at his other alma mater, the University of Florida. His daughter Gwen Graham followed in his footsteps, serving as a congresswoman for Florida’s 2nd congressional district from 2015 to 2017. She ran for Florida Governor in 2018, losing the Democratic nomination to Andrew Gillum, and went on to become the Assistant Secretary of Education under President Joe Biden in 2021.

Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

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