U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham opened his 2016 presidential bid declaring himself the candidate most prepared to fight terrorism, adding he is willing to work with “anyone” to address the nation’s problems.
“I’ve got one simple message. I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary,” Graham told a crowd of several hundred people on Central’s Main Street in front of the building where Graham grew up.
To Democrats, Graham added, “Our differences are real, and we’ll debate them. But you’re not my enemy. You’re my fellow countrymen.”
Graham’s hawkishness on defense and affinity for bipartisanship are nothing new.
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Facing a field of GOP primary opponents last year, the Seneca Republican ran a similar campaign and won re-election to the U.S. Senate. Graham said his challengers – who criticized him for being too willing to commit U.S. troops to armed conflicts overseas and to compromise at home – misjudged S.C. GOP primary voters.
In the GOP presidential primary, Graham will benefit from his tough stance on foreign policy, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. But Graham’s willingness to work with Democrats will hurt him with Republican voters, Sabato predicted.
“The activists that vote in Republican primaries are not all interested in compromise,” Sabato said, adding Graham’s chances of winning the GOP nomination are slim to none if polling — showing him at the bottom among Republican voters in New Hampshire and Iowa — holds true. “I’m not sure there are any combinations of arguments that are going to propel him into contention much less the nomination.”
Despite his long-shot chances, Graham’s supporters say his tough position on foreign policy makes him the best candidate in the race.
Graham will find a way to defend the country while finding “the best way to do it without putting us on the ground,” said Lou Hansen, 74, a Vietnam veteran from nearby Westminster.
Graham, who blames Democratic President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and draw down of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan for instability overseas, drew a line for voters.
“Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and stay safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else,” Graham said. “I’m not your man.
“Those who believe the best way to defend ourselves is to lead the world – to make history rather than be overwhelmed by it – I ask for your support.”
The only candidate Graham mentioned by name Monday was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
But Graham’s comments were an indirect jab at another GOP presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, with whom Graham spars frequently.
“(Graham) is itching to take Rand Paul apart,” Sabato said. “He’ll have quite a chorus cheering him on, even in the (U.S.) Senate Republican Caucus.”
Graham, who is headed to New Hampshire on Tuesday and Iowa later in the week, left Central for a fundraiser in Clemson without taking questions from reporters.
Graham held his kickoff event in front of the liquor store, pool hall and bar that his parents ran. Graham, his parents and sister shared a single room in the back of the business until both parents died. Their deaths, 15 months apart, left Graham, then a University of South Carolina student, to care for his younger sibling.
Having depended on Social Security survivors’ benefits after his parents died, Graham said he would work hard to save that program and other safety-net programs.
Graham’s sister Darline Graham Nordone of Lexington introduced her brother Monday.
“I can remember the day my father passed away, standing in that house absolutely scared to death,” said Nordone. “Lindsey wrapped his arms around me and promised me that he would always be there for me and always take care of me. ... He has never let me down.”
Graham credited family, friends, neighbors and his faith for helping him when he had doubts about his future.
“I’m a man with many debts to my family, my friends, to you, to South Carolina, to the country,” he said. “I’m running for president to repay those debts.”
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The U.S. senator from the Upstate became the ninth GOP candidate to announce he is running for president Monday
Born: July 9, 1955, Central
Family: Single. While in college, his parents died, leaving Graham as the legal guardian of his younger sister, Darline Graham Nordone
Education: University of South Carolina, bachelor’s, 1977, law degree, 1981
Political Career: U.S. Senate, 2002-present; U.S. House, 1994-2002; S.C. House, 1992-94
Military: U.S. Air Force, 1982-88; S.C. Air National Guard, 1989-94; Air Force Reserve, 1995-May 2015
Political highlights: One of a GOP group that unsuccessfully tried to overthrow then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in 1997. A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Graham earned national attention for his role in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Graham’s known for reaching across the aisle to Democrats. He was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that crafted a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. The measure passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the House.
SOURCES: The Almanac of American Politics, Graham’s Senate website
3 things Graham says he will do
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made his bid for the White House official Monday. A look at what he pledged to do, if he wins:
1. Get tough on terrorists: Graham said he is the most qualified candidate running for president, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. Calling for a strong military and defense, Graham blames President Barack Obama’s decisions for instability, citing the draw down of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Calling for U.S. troops to back allies overseas, Graham says he will take the fight to terrorists.
2. Save the safety net: After he and his sister depended on Social Security benefits following their parents’ deaths, Graham says he knows how important safety-net programs can be. Graham says he will to save Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, programs that help the poor and elderly. To save the programs, Graham, 59, said wealthier retirees should be willing to give up some of their benefits and young people should be willing to work longer before retiring.
3. Work with Democrats: Graham has taken heat for working with Democrats on issues from immigration to Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Facing a tough, uphill GOP presidential battle, Graham is doubling down on his bipartisanship, pledging to work with anyone to find solutions to the country’s problems.