Sen. Bob Graham of Florida said Thursday that he will undergo heart surgery in early February, postponing an announcement of a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Graham told reporters in his office that he had made up his mind to run and was planning to announce his candidacy in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 3. Now, Graham said, he will have surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve that same week.
"While I am a fire horse ready to get in harness out with the people of the early states, I recognize I am going to have to stay in the barn longer than I anticipated," he said. Graham said he had been eager to enter the race because of concerns over the administration's handling of the terrorism war and the economy.
"The war on terrorism is imminently winnable," Graham said, "but we are about to lose that war because we have allowed ourselves to be diverted to not meaningless activities, but activities that are of a lower priority."
The 66-year-old senator said he will wait a month to six weeks after the surgery to reassess whether he should run. One of his doctors, Warren Laskey, said the procedure should return him fairly quickly to good health.
"The week of Feb. 3, I'd rather be on an airplane on the way to Des Moines, Iowa," Graham said. But he added: "I consider myself fortunate" to have doctors warn him that the medical step was necessary.
Florida's senior senator was told of the need for surgery after a catheterization that was part of medical tests he had to find out if he should proceed with a presidential run.
His wife, Adele, was at the meeting with reporters in his office Thursday and said the senator's health is the primary concern of his family, but they are supportive of a presidential bid if his health allows.
Graham said he has experienced shortness of breath in recent weeks but has been exercising by taking walks in his Miami Lakes neighborhood and using an exercise bicycle regularly. He said he has been aware that the valve had problems for several years but didn't know until recently that surgery was recommended.
During the surgery, doctors will replace the aortic valve, which enables blood to flow from the heart's left ventricle into the aorta, the main artery carrying oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. A note from the physician recommending the surgery, John Eisold, told Graham his "heart remains very healthy" but he said prompt action to replace that valve would ensure that this continues.
Graham has been a leading Democratic voice in the war on terrorism and is the one member of Congress considering a run for the White House who voted against the resolution giving President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq.
He was governor of Florida from 1978-86 and has served in the Senate since then. While Graham has broader experience than most of those considering a run, he would be getting a late start in fund-raising and organizing in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.