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Rebuilding the GOP, McCain Style

By Juliet Eilperin
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- As he spoke with reporters a day before his victory here, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) jokingly pointed to his close ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and declared, "If I do lose, there stands the reason I will lose."

In fact, Graham -- who now ranks as the state's senior senator and has tirelessly campaigned for McCain in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as South Carolina -- played an instrumental role in lining up support for McCain among the state's conservatives. McCain singled him out for praise before anyone else in his acceptance speech, and once it was finished, Graham was eager to explain why his friend could build on his win to restore a fractured Republican Party.

"John is really trying to build a party this time around, not a movement," Graham said. "He's the most electable, viable conservative in the field. Every demographic in South Carolina saw in John the most electable Republican in the field."

The senator argued that McCain's emphasis on fiscal conservatism, which helped him win over New Hampshire voters earlier this month, will make him competitive with any Democratic opponent in the fall. "It's the kind of conservatism that will resonate in blue states," Graham said.

The two men don't always think alike: while riding on The Straight Talk Express this morning they debated which ABBA song they liked most, because McCain had made the decision to substitute "Take a Chance on Me" for the rock and roll classic, "Johnny B. Goode," that had traditionally blared as he left the stage. Graham mentioned he's a big fan of "Waterloo," but did not want to use it as a campaign closer.

"I like the song, but I don't like the theme of 'Waterloo,'" Graham explained.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 19, 2008; 10:41 PM ET
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