- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—DERRY — Republican presidential hopeful and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was answering questions from voters Monday at The Halligan Tavern when he was suddenly interrupted by a loud bang.

Graham — lobbying for support as one of 16 candidates in a crowded GOP field — paused as he criticized the leadership of Democratic President Barack Obama.

Longtime Associated Press photographer Jim Cole had accidentally dropped his camera and quickly apologized for the interruption, providing the three-term senator with the perfect opportunity to add some levity to what could have been an awkward situation

“I hope you didn’t break it,” Graham said. “I’ve lost a cellphone, but I don’t have a camera.”

Graham, drawing laughter from the crowd, was referring to a highly publicized spat last week between himself and fellow Republican candidate and entrepreneur Donald Trump.

After Graham called Trump the “world’s biggest jackass” for comments he made about Arizona Sen. John McCain and military service, the outspoken Trump proceeded to give out Graham’s personal cellphone number during a campaign event. Graham joked he would have to buy a new phone.

He then produced a YouTube video titled “How to destroy your cell phone with Lindsey Graham.” The video shows Graham decimating his flip phone with a large knife, blender, golf club and fire, to name a few.

The incident drew attention across the globe but has failed to prevent the billionaire businessman from continuing to rise in the polls. A CNN/ORC poll released Sunday showed Trump at the top of the Republican pack with 21 percent. Trump is at or near the top of other presidential polls as well.

But Graham continues to dwell at the bottom of the polls — finishing 15th in the CNN/ORC poll with a mere 1 percent.

Graham asked the approximately two dozen people in attendance for their vote during his stop at The Halligan.

“I humbly ask for your support,” he said. “When it comes to defending this nation, I think I’m your best choice.”

The senator said he’s the ideal Republican candidate to defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and to lead and protect the United States as trouble brews in the Middle East.

“As for Hillary Clinton, I can beat her,” Graham said. “If you are looking for something new and different, she ain’t it.”

Graham said the United States needs a strong leader focused on tackling the tough foreign policy issues he believes Obama has failed to address.

The country needs to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy and bolster its defense in the wake of greater potential threats from radical extremist groups such as ISIS.

“If I’m president of the United States, we are going to put these guys on the run,” said Graham, a 33-year Air Force veteran.

“They are going to hit us at home and hit us hard if we don’t put them on the defense,” he said.

Tough economic sanctions must be imposed against nations that refuse to cooperate, he said.

“I have never been more worried about another 9/11 than I am now,” Graham said. “The idea if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone is a false premise. If I’m president, I’m taking sides.”

More needs to spent on national defense. Pulling troops out of Iraq has led to “political hell,” he said.

“We need 11,000 troops in Iraq,” Graham said. “We have 3,500.”

This comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Defense is downsizing under the Obama administration, Graham said. By 2020, the Army will have with its fewest number of soldiers since 1940, he said.

“Shaking the Pentagon up is not off the table — what is off the table is tearing it apart,” Graham said.

He also spoke on several other key national issues, including the reform of immigration polices and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“These programs are growing faster than we can pay the bills,” he said.

In addition, Graham said he supports simplifying the national tax code and eliminating some deductions.

After the event, organized by the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, some voters said they agreed with Graham on many issues as they seek a candidate to support.

They include Joe Ronca, 18, of Derry. He’s hoping to hear from as many candidates as possible before the primary.

Ronca said he agreed with Graham’s stances on many issues, including the need to keep American troops in Iraq.

“I really like his views,” Ronca said.”I liked what he had to say on immigration and defense.”

Mark Nelson, 60, executive director of the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation, said he liked Graham’s ideas as well.

“But I would like to hear some plans,” he said.

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(c)2015 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

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