The son of a well-to-do dairyman who also had run for governor, Graham was bright and driven to succeed. Yet he appeared aloof, and even friends wondered how he ever could connect with voters.
Few hold much hope for his presidential ambitions today, save for his daughters and wife, who gather for frequent reunions here at a favorite retreat, their family cattle ranch near Albany. In the magnolia-shaded, red-brick homestead at the Graham Angus Farm, 10,000 acres of rolling pastures for Black Angus cattle and old pecan groves, Graham and wife Adele spent last Thanksgiving with just daughter Gwen and her family.
"I've known for a long time that he was thinking about this," says Gwen Logan, firstborn of four daughters. "Did I encourage him to run? Yes. My comment to him was that if this was something he really wanted to do, for him to look back on his career and say 'I wish I had run' would be a shame."
Daniel Robert Graham, 66, already has a remarkable career for a political leader who never really fit the mold. He is a Harvard-trained lawyer and millionaire real-estate developer who remade himself as "Bob" with 100 "workdays," shoveling out horse stalls and scaling mullet in his first campaign for governor.
In nearly 40 years of public service, undefeated in five statewide elections, Graham has logged a dozen years as a state lawmaker in a Legislature whose horse-trading and capitulation he disdained.
He served two terms as a tax-raising governor in a state loath to raise taxes, boosting state revenues by more than $1 billion to benefit public schools, transportation and the environment.
Finally, he has served three terms in a U.S. Senate where leading roles eluded him until recently -- serving long enough as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a new era of terrorism to develop a profound sense that his country is headed in the wrong direction.
Leadership, friends say, suits him better than lawmaking.
"To succeed in the Legislature, you must be a compromiser and a trader and swapper," says Robin Gibson, a close friend since their freshman year at the University of Florida. "You compromise and sacrifice, and principle goes out the window in order to be practical. That is tough for Bob to do."
Graham, in short, is more at ease with principle than with people. He is a voracious reader who forgets little. He has a penchant for talking too much in political circles and oftentimes over the heads of audiences.
Frugal to a fault, he has difficulty throwing anything away and refuses to replace a sluggish old home computer clogged with ancient e-mail. A passionate golfer, he can focus on a putt long enough to cook the ball. He keeps a diary of daily events both momentous and menial, recorded in a pocket-sized spiral notebook, the newest in a collection of 2,500. A "workaholic," he is known for taking work home and telephoning his chief of staff near midnight on Sundays.
Graham also became a champion for public education before the nation awoke to the failings of U.S. schools when the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its report, "A Nation at Risk," 20 years ago this month.
And, after he and his brother paved over most of their father's dairy land, creating the planned suburban enclave of Miami Lakes, Graham became a protector of the environment, working to save rivers, beaches and the Everglades.
Now he has won a second lease on life.
This is a man who -- as his physician's files revealed during his first campaign for U.S. Senate in 1986 -- could not stand the sight of his own blood. Now, recovered from heart surgery Jan. 31, two arteries bypassed and a leaking aortic valve replaced with that of a cow, Graham is embarking on a campaign for president.
Aware that he lacks a certain sizzle with a television camera, Graham flatly says: "I don't particularly aspire to that." Asked whether this will handicap his campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination in 2004, Graham says: "We'll find out."
With these sparse words, Graham struggles to tackle the lackluster image some still hold of him. As a legislator, he freely admits: "If you asked me what time it was, I'd explain the mechanism of the clock. I also had the habit of speaking in a Roman numerical outline."
As a candidate for president, he says, he is training like a reporter to "capture the reader's interest. That's the mode of effective communication in politics, particularly in television, where you're so limited in time."