A year ago, many GOP leaders thought Democratic Attorney General Jan Graham was retiring from politics in 2000 - getting out of their hair.
But the minority party's leading officeholder in Utah is wavering. At least a bit.Last June she announced she wouldn't run again for attorney general in 2000 and that she'd promised her husband and young son she'd step out of public life.
Tuesday night Graham held her annual Law Day fund-raiser. While she does contribute some small amount of that money to her personal causes, such as domestic violence, a campaign fund is still a campaign fund. And the main purpose of the money is to fund campaigns. Why is Graham raising $160,000 a year if she isn't going to run again?
The door "is still 90 percent closed" on running for office in 2000, Graham said Thursday. "But there's a handle on that door. This office (attorney general) is light years ahead of where it was" a decade ago. "If I believed some bozo was going to get it (in 2000) and take it back to where it was before, well, I wouldn't allow that." Graham said she would run again find "someone very good" who could run and win in her place.
But it isn't the just the attorney general door she has her hand on. "I would consider the U.S. Senate" in 2000 "if Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) doesn't run again. I wouldn't run against all his (campaign) money. It would have to be an open seat and a fair fight" - the Republican nominee couldn't be writing personal checks for millions of dollars as the two main Republican U.S. Senate candidates in 1992 did, she notes.
And even down the road, beyond 2000, Graham would look at an open governor's seat. "I completely rule out 2000 (for the governor's race) because I'm sure Mike Leavitt will run again and I won't challenge him."
"Those of us close to her have asked her, frankly, to keep the doors open (in 2000). Why close anything out?" asks Palmer DePaulis, Graham's chief of staff and former Salt Lake mayor. Not so long ago, he was mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate himself.
By keeping her fund-raising going and her political career in question, Graham not only helps herself, but may also aid the "white wine and Mercedes" wing of the Utah Democratic Party, as well.
That part of the party - the professionals who "sip wine in the backyards and park expensive cars in the driveways of their Federal Heights homes," as Utah AFL-CIO president Eddie Mayne has put it - once fielded the Democratic candidates for the major offices in the state.
But in recent years that wing hasn't stepped forward. Or when they did, as in Jim Bradley's run for the governorship in 1996 and Pat Shea's challenge of Sen. Orrin Hatch in 1994, they were soundly beaten.
This spring a number of active Democrats were "stunned," says DePaulis, when party leaders didn't find a candidate to run in the 3rd Congressional District against freshman Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
Meg Holbrook, party state chairwoman, says a very fine candidate was going to run but declined at the last minute. Rather than put a "warm body" into the race, someone who didn't have a good chance, Democratic leaders decided to focus on legislative races and other U.S. House contests.
One of the side effects, Holbrook said last month at the candidate-filing deadline, is that perhaps having no choice in the 3rd District will wake up some Utahns to the real dangers of a one-party state.
Apparently, one of the side effects is also to wake up some leading Democrats - who now say the party can't afford to retire some sitting officeholders in 2000.
And so, Tuesday night, Graham held her Law Day fund raiser, gathering in about $160,000 from a variety of establishment-types such as law firms, big businesses, lobbyists and so on. Combined with cash already in the account, Graham says she has "around $200,000." "And, honestly, how well I can fund-raise (in 1999 and early 2000) will have some impact on what I do in two years."
In her dinner-speech program she attacked "big tobacco" like never before, using slides and media advertisements to show how the industry is "killing 500,000" Americans a year and specifically targeting youths to hook them on tobacco. Graham is proud that Utah was the 16th state in the nation to file suit against American tobacco companies.
She sounded much like a nonpartisan, crusading candidate. She even quoted Hatch in her address on the evils of the tobacco industry.
And what better way to run for office in tobacco-hating Utah than to go after the unpopular product, saying what should be done in the halls of Congress or in the statehouse?