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Feb 12, 2015 10:58 AM

Paul Steinhauser: McCain has Lindsey Graham's back in NH

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

WASHINGTON DC - Sen. John McCain says if his good friend Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina runs for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he'll lend a helping hand on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

The senator from Arizona and 2008 GOP presidential nominee and Graham spoke to NH1 Wednesday night at a reception at the Newseum, which was part of a centennial celebration of the New Hampshire primary.

McCain told NH1 that "of course I'd be there as much as possible, which would be a lot, because one, it's a lot of fun. There's nothing quite as exciting as those last couple of weeks before the primary in all of American politics."

Asked if he'll give some of Graham some of his Granite State mojo, the two-time winner of the GOP primary laughed, but added he's still "got some good friends up there."

McCain praised Graham, saying "I believe in him."

McCain then referenced a recent Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm College poll by Purple Strategies in New Hampshire that indicated that terrorism and foreign policy were the top two issues on the minds of likely GOP primary voters.

"You combine foreign policy and terrorism and tell me anyone who's running who's got the experience and background that Sen. Graham does," McCain added.

Graham's flirting with a White House run and said he's looking forward to visiting the first-in-the-nation primary state. While foreign policy and national security are shaping up to be important issues in the 2016 presidential cycle, Graham would be considered a longshot if he does launch a campaign.

Graham, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also praised his longtime friend, who's the committee's chairman.

"We'll see if I run, but at the end of the day, one of the highlights of my life, and he's been my friend for years, is for him to believe that I'd be a good commander in chief in these difficult times. That means a lot to me," Graham said, as he stood next to McCain.

Primary centennial celebration

The 100th anniversary celebration of the New Hampshire primary was co-hosted by NH1 News/WBIN-TV, Bloomberg Politics, the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, and the Newseum.

At a forum earlier in the evening, McCain said "I think the one thing that we agree about New Hampshire is that they expect to see the candidate, they to hear from the candidate, they expect to question the candidate."

"I would argue that the people of New Hampshire take the responsibility of the decisions they make more seriously than anybody in America," he added.

McCain shared a bunch of antidotes from primaries past, including a humorous tale of humility involving one of his favorite politicians, then-Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona, who made a bid for the White House in 1976.

"Mo Udall walked into a barbershop in Concord and said ‘Hi, I'm Morris Udall from Arizona and I'm running for president of the United States.' The barber said ‘yep, we were just laughing about that this morning'," McCain said, as the audience broke out in laughter.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who's long played an influential role in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary, praised Granite State voters, saying "they're paying attention and they just don't want to hear a sound bite, they want to know what the candidates' positions are on policies, on pretty arcane policies at times, and they watching. They just don't want to talk to one candidate. They want to meet all the candidates who are running."

Shaheen who was also on the panel, added that New Hampshire's "a place where candidates still have to engage one on one with voters, they still have to present a vision for this country and be questioned about that vision, where people size them up one-one-one, as Sen. McCain said, and that's still a very important part of selecting a president in this country."

Longtime Democratic strategist James Carville and veteran GOP consultant Tom Rath, who's based in Concord, also highlighted the retail politics aspect of the New Hampshire primary, and said it's one of the best shows in campaign politics.

Carville said "the cultural epicenter of politics is the New Hampshire primary. It's the most significant event time and time and time again."

Rath added that "the eight days between Iowa on a Monday night and New Hampshire on next Tuesday night, I really believe that is the best eight days in American politics. It is the absolute defining moment, because nowhere else can you get everyone here in one place, in one time, in a place that geographically you can get anywhere in two hours, and everybody's playing the game."


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