- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham returned to his roots Tuesday to gather support for his expected presidential run.

Graham visited with lawmakers, staff members, pages, security officers, custodial staff and anyone else who would listen during a trip to the South Carolina Statehouse.

Graham’s political career started here in 1993 when his neighbors in Seneca sent him to the state House. He would serve one two-year term before he moved on to the U.S. House and 10 years later, the U.S. Senate. Graham joked it was an economic move, trading a four-figure salary as a part-time state legislator for a six-figure salary as a full-time congressman.

The House Majority Caucus invited him, and Graham gave them mostly a speech hitting on his chief themes of security through a strong military and active foreign policy and a desire to try and find some common ground with Democrats on domestic issues like reforming Social Security and immigration.

“Those who yell the most, do the least,” Graham said.

Graham joked about his recent series of interviews where he keeps upping the percentage chance he is going to run. It has gone from 91 percent to 98.6 percent in interviews the past few weeks. He started his speech saying he was 99 percent sure he was running, then 13 minutes later raised that to 99.9 percent.

But along with shoring support for his likely presidential bid, Tuesday was also a trip down memory lane for the 59-year-old senator. Graham was a 37-year-old lawyer when he came to Columbia in 1993, one of only 50 Republicans in the 124-member House.

He quickly gained a reputation as a sharp legislator who could go toe-to-toe with the smart Democratic speaker at the time, said Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester.

In 1994, a longtime Democratic congressman stepped down in Graham’s U.S. House District in northwestern South Carolina. Graham was swept into office along with a wave of GOP lawmakers. That year, the party took control of the South Carolina House - a tipping point that now has Republicans with 78 members of the House, a firm hold of the Senate and party members in every statewide office.

“I’m very proud of y’all. Y’all have governed this state well, and at the end of the day, South Carolina has been in good hands,” Graham told his fellow Republicans.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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