- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2015

Claiming the deepest foreign policy experience of the field, Sen. Lindsey Graham announced Monday that he will seek the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, saying he is better prepared than any of his rivals to “be commander in chief on Day One.”

He joins a crowded field and his bid is considered a long shot by analysts, but his position as the senior senator from South Carolina could give him somewhat of an advantage because his home state holds a critical early primary.

Mr. Graham, who resigned his commission in the Air Force Reserves last week in anticipation of his bid, warned against candidates that want to “disengage from the world” in his announcement.

“I want to be president to defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them,” the 59-year-old said near his boyhood home, vowing “security through strength” as his mantra.

He will likely serve as a foil to Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has warned against military adventurism overseas, and recently said the “hawks” in the Republican party were responsible for helping strengthen the Islamic State terrorists by pushing policies that led to regional instability and arming Syrian rebels.

Mr. Graham is the ninth candidate to enter the GOP nomination fight. Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is expected to jump into the race later this week.

Mr. Graham’s announcement comes a little over a year after he won re-election in the 2014 election, where conservatives tried — and failed — to knock him out of the Senate. But Mr. Graham easily survived.

More than seven months out from the first nomination contest, polls show him running near the back of the back in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two stops on the nomination calendar.

But he is running third in his political backyard of South Carolina, which hosts the first primary in the South - — a contest that could prove pivotal in the nomination fight.

Still, he has a tough road ahead, given his support of a 2013 immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants and the criticism he has aimed at Mr. Paul and other tea party favorites on Capitol Hill.

A Winthrop University Poll released in April found that 55 percent of South Carolinians “would not consider voting” for him.

“While Graham is a sitting senator from South Carolina, he is not a universally beloved figure in his own party — far from it,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “He only got 56 percent in a GOP primary last year against a motley collection of candidates. Had he had a more credible challenger and been forced into a runoff it’s easy to imagine him losing that runoff.”

Mr. Kondik, though, said he could create headaches for his rivals.

“He complicates the math for the GOP field in South Carolina because he almost assuredly will do better in the state than he is polling nationally at the time of the primary, but the state is so historically important in Republican nomination battles that I doubt the other candidates cede it to him,” he said.

Mr. Graham, in his speech Monday, took aim at former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the clear front-runner for Democrats’ nomination, saying he has “more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race — that includes you Hillary.” And he fired at the Obama administration and his own colleagues in Congress for allowing the Islamic State to grow.

“They have more safe havens, more money, more capability and more weapons to strike our homeland than anytime since 9-11,” Mr. Graham said. “They are large, they are rich, they are entrenched. As president, I will make them small, poor and all the run.

Mr. Graham has won accolades from social conservatives for sponsoring legislation to ban abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy.

Senator Graham is a welcome addition to the growing Republican presidential field,” said Frank Cannon, of the American Principles Project, a conservative group. “Last year, Graham took the bold step of introducing the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. Graham is a gifted orator who stands firm in his convictions, which is something we need more of in the Republican Party.”

Doug Kaplan, president of Gravis Marketing, a polling group, said Mr. Graham represents what could be called the “Cheney wing” of the GOP, after former Vice President Dick Cheney.

“He is a true Neo conservative that will not allow Rand Paul to drag the party left on foreign policy,” Mr. Kaplan said.

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