Lindsey Graham told the Weekly Standard this week that he will seriously look at running for the Republican presidential nomination if, as expected, he keeps his Senate seat in November. Graham also dismissed Rubio as a presidential possibility, saying he was too inexperienced and too afraid of conservatives to sit in the White House.
Hes a good guy, but after doing immigration with him -- we dont need another young guy not quite ready, Graham told the Weekly Standard. Hes no Obama by any means, but hes so afraid of the right, and Ive let that go.
Graham poses a problem for Rubio on a host of fronts. Graham is based in South Carolina which holds its primary after Iowa and New Hampshire cast their votes. Rubio had been courting South Carolina as he looks ahead to 2016, hoping its large military population could help him survive until Florida holds its next primary. Despite its conservative streak, South Carolina generally backs the Republican front-runner, going for George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and John McCain in 2008. Only in 2012 did a challenger -- Newt Gingrich from neighboring Georgia -- buck the GOP front-runner in South Carolina.
Conservatives often dismiss Graham as a moderate but his standing in South Carolina should not be questioned. He has been winning elections for almost 25 years now. Despite facing six rivals in the primary earlier this year, Graham put any questions of his vulnerability to rest, taking more than 58 percent of the vote despite the crowded field.
But besides hurting Rubio in a key state, Graham takes up much of the same space on the political stage. Both senators were members of the Gang of Eight on immigration reform. On international issues, Graham and Rubio are basically on the same page, standing against the likes of Rand Paul on foreign affairs and military intervention.
Much of the Republican establishment looking at Rubio for 2016 could prefer Graham. Serving as a case in point is one of the elder statesmen of the GOP: John McCain. Having joined both Graham and Rubio in the Gang of Eight, McCain clearly likes the South Carolinian more.
The Weekly Standard reports that McCain has been urging Graham to get in the race.
Ive strongly encouraged him to give it a look, McCain told the Weekly Standard. I think Lindsey has vast and deep experience on these issues that very few others have.
McCain offered kind words for Rubio but noted that he does not have Grahams experience.
Hes articulate, intelligent, and has all the right instincts, McCain told the Weekly Standard about Rubio. He doesnt have the background that Lindsey does, but hes probably as articulate as anyone in our party. Ive watched him carefully on the Foreign Relations Committee -- hes excellent. Very impressive.
Sounds like McCain is ready to back Graham if he gets in. That could hurt Rubio in New Hampshire where the Arizona senator, who won the first primary in 2000 and 2008, remains popular.
With his role on immigration reform, Rubio had already hurt his chances for 2016. Those odds will grow even slimmer if Lindsey Graham enters the primaries.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.