Jun 2, 2015 10:58 PM
NH1 Political Director - NH1.com
DERRY – Lindsey Graham may be a long shot for the GOP presidential nomination, but the Republican senator from South Carolina teased Tuesday that he may soon be getting a major assist on the campaign trail in New Hampshire from an old friend.
Asked by NH1 News if Sen. John McCain will campaign with Graham in the first-in-the-nation primary state, the Republican presidential candidate said “just stay tuned about John McCain.”
“I think he can be a help to me here and other places so just stay tuned,” added Graham, who took questions from NH1 News and other media after greeting customers at MaryAnn’s Diner in Derry, a must stop for White House contenders.
The senator from Arizona and 2008 GOP presidential nominee twice won the Republican primary in New Hampshire, in 2000 and again eight years later. McCain’s a close friend and ally of Graham’s and is supporting his White House run.
Asked by NH1 News earlier this year if he’d travel to New Hampshire to campaign for Graham, McCain said “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."
Tuesday Graham said McCain’s advice to him was to “get your butt up here” to New Hampshire.
Graham: National polls test celebrity status
Graham’s hovering around one percent in most national polling, which will most likely exclude him from the stage at the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland on August 6. Fox News, which is hosting the showdown, will limit the debate to the top ten candidates according to national polling.
Asked about the criteria, Graham belittled national polling, saying “here’s what I would say about national polling: Brad Pitt would probably be in the debate. I’m sure he’s a fine fellow. But at the end of the day what your testing is people who’ve run before or people who have certain celebrity status. For a candidate like me, I wouldn’t have a chance if it were Florida, New York or California.”
When it was pointed out that Donald Trump may make the cut for the first debate, Graham said “I think Donald Trump is a good guy and he’s got a lot to say. It’s America, jump in. Let the people decide who’s qualified to be president. But again Donald Trump’s got a national television show, he’s a bigger than life figure. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina should be looked at closer. This is where we’ll campaign. Most of us are not going to spend a lot of time in Florida. Most of us are not going to spend a lot of time in California. So these three early states are where all of us come, I think that would be a good judge of how well you’re doing. Where people get a chance to actually ask you questions.”
New Hampshire crucial for Graham
Graham arrived in the Granite State one day after launching his White House run in his hometown of Central, South Carolina. This latest visit to New Hampshire is Graham’s seventh since March.
“The profile in New Hampshire fits me pretty well. You’ve got a lot of veterans here. Forty percent of the voters on election day will be independents. I’m a proud conservative but I’ve got an independent streak within me. I’ll work with Democrats when it makes sense. I think that fits New Hampshire pretty well. This is a place, if I’m going to do well I should do well here. And for me to do well here I gotta show up,” Graham told NH1 News.
Graham admitted that the Granite State is crucial to any hope he has of winning the nomination.
“For me to stay in the race I have to do well in New Hampshire and for me doing well would be in the top tier. And if I can’t break through here I’ll get out. I believe I can break through here. I’m willing to give it everything I can. I just hope people in New Hampshire will check me out,” Graham added.
Graham: Paul ‘out of touch’ on national security
While Graham was in New Hampshire, the Senate passed a measure that would reform the National Security Agency's data collection powers. The measure, called the USA Freedom Act, was opposed by Graham because he supported fully reauthorizing the Patriot Act, which had allowed the NSA to collect in bulk the phone records of Americans.
The longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who just stepped down after serving more than three decades in the Air Force Reserves, is making his foreign policy chops and his hawkish views on national security key parts of his presidential campaign.
But asked by NH1 News why he missed the vote to campaign in New Hampshire, Graham said “I wouldn’t be here if I thought the program needed my vote.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a rival for the GOP nomination, who opposes the NSA’s actions, temporarily derailed a vote on the USA Freedom Act. Asked by NH1 News about Paul, Graham said “I think he’s out of touch with our party on national security. I actually like him personally. We’ve done entitlement reform, Medicare reform, we’ve done somethings for Social Security, try to make them solvent. But when it comes to foreign policy, his views are out of synch I think not only with the average Republican but the average American.”
Mark Basilico was one of the first patrons Graham spoke with upon arriving. Basilico told NH1 News that “I’ve been really impressed by his credentials. One thing that I’m really concerned about his foreign policy and national security.”
Delores Brusky – independent from Derry, also spoke with Graham. She questioned he about the 2012 Benghazi attack. She said “I like him. I think he answered me truthfully. I try to get out to see them all, to talk to them and try to make a really good decision.”
“I think he has a shot,” Brusky added.
Bill Stewart, who asked Graham about medical care for veterans, was more skeptical. Asked if Graham answered his question, Stewart replied “for the most part. But I feel that the politicians are going to tell you what they want to hear.”
Jodi Nelson, an official with the Derry GOP, said “what stands out in my mind is how engaging and interested he is with people here. He just doesn’t wait for an answer. He’s actually asking people what they think.”
Nelson, who said foreign policy and national security are “very big issues” for Derry Republicans, added that she was “impressed with how much he knows.”
Graham: Immigration key to GOP winning in 2016
Graham backing of a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, but never saw the light of day in the GOP dominated House, could hurt him with many conservatives.
“You’ll never convince Lindsey Graham that our tanking with Hispanics has not been related to the way we’ve handled the immigration debate. And if I’m the nominee of the party I can look anybody in the eye and say I’ve tried very hard to fix immigration in a state where the politics upside is not very great,” Graham said.
“If the Republican Party doesn’t improve itself in terms of our immigration approach, then I think we’re going to have a hard time winning in 2016,” Graham predicted.
After the stop in Derry, Graham was the guest of honor Tuesday evening at a house party in Tuftonboro. Wednesday morning Graham heads to another diner that sees candidate traffic: the Roundabout Diner in Portsmouth. In the afternoon Graham speaks and takes questions at an Americans for Peace, Prosperity and National Security Forum at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester.
Thursday Graham heads to New York City for fundraising events before making a two day swing through Iowa.
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