THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND RETURNS?
SARASOTA -- Former two-term Republican U.S. senator from New Hampshire Bob Smith, now of Sarasota, said Tuesday he was "very seriously" considering a run for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, and that a formal announcement of his candidacy next month was likely.
"My wife and I certainly had no intention of re-entering politics when we moved here," said Smith, who served six years in Congress and 12 years in the Senate before his defeat last year by U.S. Rep. John Sununu. "But ever since Sen. Graham retired, a lot of people have been asking me to run, offering to support me and help me raise money.
"Of course, I thought of it as just very flattering at first. But the level of interest really seems to be increasing, and so now I'm meeting with people I know and respect, gauging the level of support I'm seeing and being offered. ... If it turns out to be as strong as it looks, I'll probably officially announce next month and begin traveling around the state to meet people, let them get to know me and hear what they have to say. ... At this point, my feeling is, 'Why not?' "
Smith said he has an ad-hoc campaign committee in place, major fund-raising resources to tap into across the country, and an active financial account from his last Senate contest -- an account, he says, that saw contributions from more than 6,000 Florida residents.
"I believe my record of support for the space program, the environment, the military, for POWs and for veterans would be of interest to all Floridians," he said. "I was actually criticized in my last race for my time and effort working on the Everglades restoration bill, which was essentially mine. ... But I felt the Everglades was a national treasure, not a local one, and I said so. That was used against me and probably had something to do with my losing the election."
Smith was targeted for defeat by the national GOP in his race with Sununu after he briefly left the party during an abbreviated run for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.
Florida Republican Party spokesman Jeff Becker said Tuesday he had been unaware of Smith's interest in the contest, but that he was intrigued by the prospect of a run from the maverick New Hampshire transplant.
"Obviously, with 18 years in Congress under his belt, he would bring a lot of experience and seniority to the seat," said Becker. "He was an independent for a while, and I'm sure that's going to be part of the discussion. ... He's certainly going to make the primary all the more fascinating to watch."
During his tenure in the Senate, Smith held leadership posts on the Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, and Ethics committees.
He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985-1990, with memberships on its Armed Services; Science, Space and Technology; Veterans Affairs, and Small Business committees, the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, and the House Task Force on POW/MIAs.
Smith served two years of active duty (1965-67) in the Navy and five years
(1962-65,1967-69) in the Naval Reserves. He served one year of active duty in Vietnam (1966-67), stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, and is a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
By BARRY MILLMAN