After three-terms in the Senate, it’s time for Sen. John McCain’s longtime sidekick to have his moment in the spotlight.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, an AR-15 touting, terrorist hating, culture warrior with a soft southern drawl and establishment credentials, announced the formation of a new PAC, “Security Through Strength” on Thursday, the first step in process of mounting a bid for the presidency.
The name - a hawkish play on Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength”- also nods to his expertise in national security policy and the reason behind his run.
If he does run, the South Carolinian would instantly become one of the most experienced GOP candidates in the race. He has served more time in the Senate than fellow hopefuls Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul combined.
Until now, Graham has been more of a behind-the-scenes player, the Felix to McCain’s Oscar. McCain calls him his “illegitimate son”- an interesting nickname given the fact Graham hails from the state where Karl Rove infamously spread a rumor that McCain had an illegitimate child in 2000.
It’s the personal attacks that give Graham pause.
Graham, a 59-year-old bachelor, noted that to run for the White House you have to endure “an incredible amount of personal hell.”
And he knows about people questioning his personal life first hand. Just this past election cycle, one of his primary challengers referred to him as “ambigously gay,” the latest in a series of similar rumors and speculation.
But Graham said that he was inspired to go through with it because of “the guys and gals serving overseas and what they’ve gone through quietly for the past 13 years . . . Whatever inconvenience it would be for me personally, speaking up for them and trying to have their back would be worth it.”
Graham also seemed to indicate that he could appeal to voters who traditionally did not support the GOP by offering “a form of conservatism that may actually grow the ability of the party nationally.”
But Graham faces a relatively difficult path to the White House in a crowded field that includes a number of other figures from the establishment wing of the party, potentially including Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
While Graham certainly has more foreign policy experience than those three, he also has a far less robust national fundraising base. He could also face a roadblock in the fact that his state hosts a crucial early primary.
Only rarely in the modern era have candidates from early primary states sought a bid for the presidency because the political complications involved
The only two in recent years have been Tom Harkin in 1992 and Tom Vilsack in 2008, both Democrats from Iowa. In Harkin’s bid, other candidates conceded the Hawkeye State to him, leaving its first-in-the-nation caucuses practically irrelevant. In 2008, Vilsack dropped out very early in the process, unwilling to risk a humiliating defeat on his home turf.
Considering the growing number of potential Republican candidates, it’s unlikely that any would concede the Palmetto State to Graham which means any presidential campaign would involving betting a significant amount of political capital in his home state.
Graham though hasn’t made up his mind yet about a bid, saying his target for a final decision is “by the end of April” but insists “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think I had a realistic chance of winning.”