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Senator Lindsey Graham Wants to Be the John McCain of 2016 (Except to Win)

Senator Lindsey Graham Wants to Be the John McCain of 2016 (Except to Win)


The longtime bachelor and Republican senator famous for saying 'I ain't gay' announces his bid for the White House.

He is a vocal critic of the Tea Party, voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and to confirm Supreme Court Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, and supports comprehensive immigration reform.

He is, surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

He's also the man who has never sent an email, stands out as one of the most hawkish voices for national defense, and now is the latest Republican to run for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Today in his hometown of Central, S.C., on the same day the feisty 59-year-old Air Force colonel retired form the reserves, Graham declared he is a candidate for president. And in a very direct way, he challenged not his conservative rivals but the Democratic front-runner.

"I am running for president of the United States because I am ready to be commander-in-chief on day one ... to defend our nation with a sound strategy, a strong military, stable alliances and a steady determination," Graham told a crowd of supporters. "I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary."

As the Washington Post reported, the challenges Graham will face are many, beginning with conservative critics who have labeled him as too liberal. Plus he's polling in the low single digits in an already very crowded field.

Where conservatives will find him attractive is in his attacks on President Obama's strategy abroad, especially in Iraq and Syria, his opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran, and his role in the 1998 impeachment and Senate of President Bill Clinton, which put him on the map.

The key strategists in Graham's campaign worked for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Graham's closest friend in the Senate, when McCain sought the presidency in 2008.

"Senator Graham, he's my man," McCain said in January when Graham launched his exploratory committee.

But Graham's push in 2013 for sweeping immigration reform that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants earned him the wrath of many hard-line conservatives who led the GOP-controlled House to kill it. He remains virtually the only Republican candidate supporting the idea of letting some undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. stay if they meet certain conditions.

And despite a zero percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard, Graham concedes it may be time to accept a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. That is a stance that puts him at odds with most of his rivals, especially the far-right Rick Santorum.

Another liability is a five-year-old swipe at the Tea Party that could still haunt Graham.

"The problem with the tea party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out."

- Sen. Lindsey Graham to The New York Times, 2010

In that same interview with Robert Draper, the lifelong bachelor answered a question about his sexual orientation. ""I know it's really gonna upset a lot of gay men -- I'm sure hundreds of 'em are gonna be jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge -- but I ain't available. I ain't gay. Sorry."

As NPR reported, Graham said he's running for president because "the world is falling apart."

But in a world that runs on email, Graham is a Luddite. He made headlines earlier this year when he quipped that he had "never sent" an email, despite 12 years as a U.S. senator and eight as a representative before that.

Asked if he had a private email account, Graham told NBC's Chuck Todd, "I don't email. No, you can have every email I've ever sent. I've never sent one."

The comment quickly went viral.

Graham, of course, is not totally out of touch; he does own a cell phone.

It's a flip phone.

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