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Jun 1, 2015 11:11 PM

Steinhauser: NH key to Graham's longshot 2016 bid

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

CONCORD – Tuesday Sen. Lindsey Graham returns to New Hampshire.

It’s the Republican from South Carolina’s seventh trip to the Granite State since March, but his first as a presidential candidate. Monday the three-term senator launched his GOP White House bid in his hometown of Central, South Carolina.

Graham realizes the first-in-the-nation primary state is key to his long shot hopes of winning the Republican nomination.

"For me to do well I've got to come up here a lot and have an organization that can capture the momentum if I get momentum. I've got to do interviews like this. I've got to do town hall meetings. I've got to spend a lot of retail time on the ground, but to me that is not a burden but a real joy quite frankly,” Graham said recently in a sit down interview with NH1 News.

Graham kicks off his two-day swing with a drop by Tuesday afternoon at Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, a popular stop for White House contenders. In the evening he’ll attend a house party in Tuftonboro hosted by Beverly Bruce. On Wednesday morning Graham makes a drop by at the Roundabout Diner in Portsmouth. At noon, the longtime Senate Armed Services Committee member speaks and takes questions at the Americans for Peace, Prosperity and National Security Forum at the University of New Hampshire in Manchester.

Graham, who became the ninth major Republican candidate to announce for president, is facing off against rivals with bigger names and more money. But Graham’s a favorite son in South Carolina, the first southern state in the primary and caucus calendar, and he feels that New Hampshire’s focus on retail politics also levels the playing field a bit.

"I will be up here a lot. This is a place that is an antidote to big money. If it wasn't for New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, you could buy the White House,” Graham told NH1 News a couple of months ago.

And while he feels he can be competitive in Iowa, which kicks off the race for the White House, he thinks New Hampshire's a better fit.

"I'm going to play hard in Iowa. I like the people in Iowa. They're very much like South Carolina. But New Hampshire really is a good fit for me because I try to give people a honest answer to a hard question. I'm willing to show up a lot . And at the end of the day the mix of the voters in New Hampshire probably is my best chance to do well," Graham said. "You'll probably have about forty percent of independent voters participating in the Republican primary. That's probably good for a guy like me."

Longtime Granite State consultant Tom Rath told NH1 News that Graham’s “a serious, responsible, credentialed candidate who faces long odds but who will be treated well by a New Hampshire electorate that traditionally pays attention to serious people. He does not produce a lot of buzz like a Carly Fiorina or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but there is no better place for him to start than here and if he does well here he can slingshot home into South Carolina with some credibility.”

The McCain Factor

Graham also has something else going for him: John McCain.

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 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."

“Graham will have McCain’s supporters list and that’s a good place to start,” added Rath, a former state attorney general who was a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP presidential campaign.

Veteran New Hampshire Republican consultant David Carney agreed.

“Sen. Graham has the opportunity to crack off some of the McCain coalition in New Hampshire if he works hard enough. McCain was a New Hampshire machine and build much of his appeal based on his sweat, blood and tears he shed in New Hampshire. Sen. Graham can't replicate that effort completely but he does not need huge margins that McCain had over George Bush in 2000. So many other choices makes the bar much lower this time around,” said Carney, who served as a longtime political adviser to then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

And Graham is also close to Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the senior Republican on the Granite State’s congressional delegation.

“He has a good relationship with Kelly and although she won’t endorse, she will say nice things about him and that will be helpful,” Rath pointed out.

Another thing in Graham's favor: national security and foreign policy (as of now) are on the minds of GOP primary voters.

Steve Duprey, one of New Hampshire's two members on the Republican National Committee, said "there is no other candidate running who has the depth of experience in both foreign and defense policy, or who understands the damage the Clinton/Obama foreign policy has done to America's standing in the world."

Duprey, who is remaining neutral this cycle, was a top political adviser to McCain in his two presidential runs, and is close to Graham.

While Graham doesn’t have much of an organization compared to many of his rivals, a month ago he did bring on Portsmouth based longtime political operative Paul Young as a senior adviser. And as first reported by NH1 News about a week and a half ago, Joe Doiron was named New Hampshire state director.


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