Lindsey Graham, Friend of John
By Juliet Eilperin
ABOARD THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN PLANE -- As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) eyes his prospects in South Carolina he is relying on one of his closest political allies to help deliver the military vote: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Oddly, that doesn't keep McCain from mocking him.
McCain started the morning by joking that his campaign ran into financial trouble this summer because "we had to pay for a translator for Lindsey," referring to Graham's thick Southern accent. At a youth rally in Grand Rapids, he introduced his friend by saying as he made the trip from New Hampshire to Michigan, "I also found a homeless person along the way, his name is Lindsey Graham."
And even Graham sometimes questions the value of his counsel, noting that back in when McCain faced George W. Bush in South Carolina's 2000 presidential primary, he was the one prominent state official who backed McCain. The senator lost. "He pretty much had me, and you saw how well that worked out," he told reporters.
But jokes aside Graham -- who was a House member back in 2000 but is now his state's senior senator, is a key and devoted part of McCain's campaign operation, stumping on his behalf in New Hampshire and Michigan as well as South Carolina. In some ways Graham's transformation, from a 1994 Republican revolutionary to late Sen. Strom Thurmond's (R-S.C.) successor, mirrors the change McCain's own candidacy has experienced.
Back in 2000, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, "We were still an insurgent campaign running against an establishment campaign." Now, he said, they have the backing of the majority of the state's elected officials, including the head of the National Guard, Adjutant General Stan Spears. "We've got the fuel to run a campaign in South Carolina. You can't go there and set that up overnight, as some are trying to do."
Graham, who continues to serves as a reserve Air Force colonel and military lawyer even while in Congress, is working to reach out to veterans, who make up a significant part of South Carolina's GOP primary electorate and could help deliver McCain's winning margin there.
"We're a very big military state," Graham said, ticking off the names of half a dozen military bases in South Carolina. "I've looked at all the military bases in Iowa. There's none."
Spears, Graham said, has a broad network because he's popularly elected. And his son, Stan Spears Jr., is heading up McCain's veterans outreach. "He's signed up every VFW commander, every American Legion head," Graham said of Spears' son. "And when people left [the campaign] in July, these guys stuck with us.
In some instances McCain -- who has spent at least five days a month in South Carolina for the past six months -- makes specific appeals to veterans, suggesting they should get a plastic card qualifying them for immediate health care rather than having to travel long distances for such government services. But McCain's most compelling argument to South Carolina's active and retired military, Graham said, stems from what he calls the senator's commander in chief" argument.
"We're at war. Veterans, of all people, understand what awaits us if we don't defeat this enemy," Graham said. "It's a question off who can fight this war and lead us to victory."
Graham has spent the past two weeks with McCain, traveling from Iowa to New Hampshire and then onto Michigan and South Carolina today. McCain took Graham to his speech at the Citadel Wednesday night since, as he explained, "There are very few events that Lindsey attends before noon. But he's at his best at the night events."
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