Jul 3, 2015 5:30 PM
NH1 Political Director - NH1.com
MANCHESTER – For Sen. Lindsey Graham, any hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination rests with a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Graham hails from South Carolina, which votes third in the primary and caucus calendar, following Iowa and the Granite State.
“I’m not running just to win South Carolina. I gotta break out before South Carolina in my own mind. The best place for me to do it is New Hampshire. You have a lot of independent voters.” Graham said Friday in a one-on-one interview with NH1 News.
“I talk about three things. Too many tariffs, too much debt, too few jobs,’ Graham continued. “New Hampshire is known for being like practical fiscal conservatives. We’re on the road to becoming Greece unless the next president can do what Obama’s failed to do, which is bring us together and do what Judd Gregg has proposed to do and fixing the debt.”
Graham spoke to NH1 News during a day that his campaign said was jam-packed with “private meetings.” Saturday Graham joins four other Republican presidential candidates and two Democratic White House contenders in marching in Granite State July 4th parades. Graham is scheduled to march in the Amherst and Center Harbor parades.
By the end of the month, there will be 16 major Republicans running for the GOP presidential nomination. Asked how he can stand out, Graham said “I just think experience. I don’t think anyone in this race is better prepared to be commander-in-chief than I am. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan over 35 times. I know the people in the region. They know me. I understand how we got in this mess.”
“I’m telling people if you want a commander-in-chief ready to go on day one, vote for me. Thirty-three years in the air force. Been in the region busting my butt for the last decade,” the longtime member of the Senate Armed Services committee said.
Graham continued, with a warning of a terrorist attack, saying “it’s just a matter of time before we get hit hard. There’s too many of these guys to keep track of and in the face of growing threats we’re reducing our defense spending to all-time lows, which is a formula for disaster.”
Graham’s a longshot for the nomination, and may not make the cut for the first GOP presidential nomination debate. Only 10 candidates will make the stage at the August 6 showdown in Cleveland (host city for next year’s Republican convention). With 14 candidates already declared and at least two more GOP White House hopefuls all but certain to announce, a bunch of contenders won’t make the cut. Fox News is using an average of national polling to determine who makes the stage.
Asked about the debate, Graham said “it’s a disaster. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina have three things in common. We’re small, we’re tenacious, we’re informed voters. To get the nomination in the Republican party you’ve got to start in Iowa, you got to go to New Hampshire and you gotta come to South Carolina. About a million-two will vote. It gives a guy like me a chance.”
And Graham warned that “nationalizing the debate nationalizes the election. If you can’t get in the debate unless you have national numbers, you’re going to be in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, less. You’re going to spend your money driving up your national numbers. It’s the beginning of the end of the New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina primaries and caucuses. I don’t’ know why the Republican Party feels the need to do this. I think it’s a dumb idea.”
Graham works closely in the U.S. Senate with Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The Granite State Republican faces a challenging re-election next year. Graham called Ayotte “awesome.”
Asked if we’ll see Ayotte and Graham on the primary campaign trail together in New Hampshire, Graham said “Kelly is going to focus on her race. My advice to Kelly Ayotte is to be nice to all of us but focus on your race. She is a national treasure for the Republican Party.”
Graham spoke with NH1 News for the first time since the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston by a white shooter. The horrific incident spurred state political leaders to push to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capital in Columbia.
“It’s been absolutely gut wrenching tragedy,” Graham said. “I still have a hard time understanding how a young man could drive for two hours, be welcoming into a church to study the bible, after an hour get up and kill nine people. That’s a level of hate that’s hard to wrap your head around.”
But Graham said “it’s been transformational moment in South Carolina. The churches are filled. We’re all talking to each other, hugging each other in a way I’ve never seen. The flag will come down, July the sixth I think it will be brought down.”
As for the flag, he said “it’s going to go to a museum, you can look at it, have any view you would like, but it’s coming down from our state capitol.”
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