Sen. Lindsay Graham Enters Crowded Field Of GOP Presidential Hopefuls

Jun 1, 2015
Originally published on June 2, 2015 2:12 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

As Americans debate privacy versus national security, one of the Senate's most hawkish members is launching a campaign for president. South Carolina's Lindsey Graham announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination this morning in the small town of Central, S.C. As Georgia Public Broadcasting's Sarah McCammon reports, Graham is carving out a position as an alternative to the foreign policy of the GOP's libertarian wing.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Standing before a crowd of supporters on the main street of his hometown, Lindsey Graham said he has one simple message.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race.

(APPLAUSE)

GRAHAM: That includes you, Hillary.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: But before Graham can think too much about facing off against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, he faces a big pool of opponents in the Republican Party. And he's seeking to frame himself as the GOP's leading foreign-policy candidate.

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GRAHAM: Simply put, radical Islam is running wild. They have more safe havens, more money, more capability and more weapons to strike our homeland than any time since 9/11.

MCCAMMON: The senior senator from South Carolina, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, promised to take on threats from the Middle East to Russia. David Woodard is a political science professor at Clemson University. He says Graham is a long shot, but fills a certain niche in this race.

DAVID WOODARD: Sort of the McCain voice.

MCCAMMON: Like Senator John McCain, Graham is a veteran. He just retired from the Air Force Reserve after more than 30 years. He enters the race on the heels of this weekend's Senate debate over the USA Patriot Act. Parts of the law expired at midnight after another contender for the White House, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, delayed the vote. Woodard, who managed two of Graham's congressional campaigns in the 1990s, says Graham is squarely on the other side.

WOODARD: He'll certainly be the antidote to Rand Paul in any debates (laughter). I don't think there will be any doubt about that.

MCCAMMON: Graham didn't mention Paul by name, but he did take this jab.

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GRAHAM: Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and safely - and be safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else. I am not your man.

MCCAMMON: Whatever his differences with some members of his own party, Graham has carved out a reputation for working with Democrats on thorny issues, from immigration to climate change.

Just before the speech, Randy Molloseau and his father sipped coffee at Margaret's Restaurant in the next town over. He has mixed feelings about that approach.

RANDY MOLLOSEAU: I'm all for getting along, obviously, you know, if it's a conservative issue. Some of the things, like climate change, I don't agree with climate change.

MCCAMMON: David Woodard says Graham's willingness to work with Democrats could be a problem in a Republican primary. But he says, as a native son, Graham also poses a threat to those who need a strong showing in South Carolina, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

WOODARD: Since he's going to take some votes that probably normally would've gone to somebody like a Rubio or a Walker, and the state has voted, historically, sort of for establishment candidates.

MCCAMMON: Ironically, Woodard says, if Graham dilutes support for some of the top-tier candidates, that could actually be good news for someone like Rand Paul. For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Central, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.