Lindsey Graham launches presidential campaign

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.)

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.)

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.)

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.)

CENTRAL, S.C. — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham opened his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Monday with a grim accounting of radical Islam “running wild” in a world imperiled also by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

He dedicated himself to defeating U.S. adversaries — a commitment that would place thousands of troops back in Iraq, essentially re-engaging in that war.

“I’ve got one simple message,” he told supporters in the small town where he grew up. “I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary.”

In that fashion, he took on Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state as well as non-interventionists in his own party and rivals with little to no foreign policy experience.

Graham is a prominent Senate voice in seeking a more muscular foreign policy and one who casts the threats facing the United States in particularly dark terms.

“Simply put, radical Islam is running wild,” he said. “They have more safe havens, more money, more weapons and more capability to strike our homeland than any time since 9/11. They are large, they are rich, and they’re entrenched.”

He said as president, he’d “make them small, poor and on the run.”

“I’m afraid some Americans have grown tired of fighting them,” he said. “I have bad news to share with you — the radical Islamists are not tired of fighting you.”

Despite his focus on Islamic State militants with footholds in Iraq and Syria, Graham said Iran poses the gravest threats.

If the U.S. does not head off a nuclear capability in Iran, Graham said, “Iran will trigger a nuclear arms race in the least stable region on Earth, and make it more likely that people who aspire to genocide will have the most effective means to commit it.”

Graham is an outspoken member of the conservative class that swept into Congress in 1994. But he’s joined with Democrats on some contentious votes.

He backed a 2012 immigration overhaul and voted to end a 2013 partial government shutdown, for example.

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His call for a stronger military posture abroad is a calculated risk for the 59-year-old three-term senator and retired Air Force lawyer who surprised many when he began to hint earlier this year he would run for president.

His approach stands in stark contrast to fellow senator and presidential candidate, Kentucky‘s Rand Paul, who favors less military intervention.

On social issues, Graham has backed proposals for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage and for a ban on gay adoptions.

He argued that if the Constitution is interpreted to grant a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, it could also be interpreted as granting marriage rights to polygamists. Yet Graham has also called for gay couples to be able to live “free and open” lives.

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