- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham on Tuesday made his presidential campaign official in his home state, saying he is the most qualified to serve as commander in chief despite his meager poll standings.

“I’m home,” Graham proclaimed, as he walked into a small room crowded with several dozen reporters and supporters at state Republican Party Headquarters in Columbia. “This is a big day for me. I think it is a big day for our state.”

Graham, the only candidate in either party to hail from one of the first four states primary states, has been polling toward the bottom of the 17-deep Republican field. The third-term U.S. senator’s long-shot campaign has not gained any traction, even as his favored issue of national security has become a focal point for many of his rivals.

Graham said Tuesday he looked forward to moving past the primary’s “silly season,” touting himself as the candidate with far and away the most foreign policy experience.

“It’s just a matter of time until we have another 9/11 if things don’t change,” Graham warned, stressing that he has spent more days - 140 - on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other presidential contender. “The next president’s going to be a wartime president, whether they like it or not.”

The silliness Graham referenced includes his own sparring with Donald Trump, whom he called a “jackass” earlier this summer. During a subsequent stop in South Carolina, Trump read Graham’s personal cellphone number to hundreds of supporters.

Graham later told CNN he would “beat his brains out” in South Carolina’s primary.

Trump responded with a tweet: “Congrats @LindseyGrahamSC. You just got 4 points in your home state of SC_far better than zero nationally. You’re only 26 pts behind me.”

Graham’s campaign has continued to focus on his military and foreign policy credentials. Back in June at his campaign announcement in his hometown of Central, South Carolina, Graham gave a grim accounting of radical Islam “running wild” in a world imperiled also by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He said more ground troops in Iraq would be the only way to secure the country.

“ISIL will not be destroyed from the air.” Graham said Tuesday, of the Islamic State group. “I understand what it takes to beat these guys.”

Polls have suggested a majority of American adults support military action against the group commonly called ISIS. But support drops when respondents are asked specifically about a ground war.

South Carolina holds the South’s first Republican primary. A handful of other GOP candidates have already filed their paperwork, but not Trump, who has refused to rule out a third party run if he fails to win the nomination.

Registration for the state primary, which closes Sept. 30, requires a pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee.


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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