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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham launches campaign for president

South Carolinian stresses national security and fighting Islamic extremism in kickoff speech

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

south-carolina mugCENTER, South Carolina (CFP) — Saying he wants America to have “security through strength,” U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham formally launched his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination by calling for stronger action against both Islamic extremism and Russian expansionism

“The next president must be an informed and decisive commander-in-chief, ready immediately to address these threats. We’ve learned over the past six years that speeches alone won’t make us safe. Superior power and resolve will,” he said.

“I am ready to be commander-in-chief on day one.”

Graham, 59, elected to his third term in the Senate last year, launched his campaign in Center, the small town in upstate South Carolina where he grew up living in back of a bar. He saluted people in his hometown who helped him climb from those humble origins to the Senate.

“I’m a man with many debts to my family, to you, to South Carolina and to the country,” Graham said. “I’m running for president to repay those debts, to fight as hard for you as you fought for me.”

Graham, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is considered something of a hawk on military and foreign policy. He has been particularly critical of one of his 2016 GOP opponents, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has taken a less interventionist line when it comes to international relations.

In his kickoff speech, Graham reflected those views, saying that he wants to “defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them but defeat them.”

“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, rich and entrenched. As president, I will make them small, poor and on the run.”

During his years in the Senate, Graham has come under fire from conservative forces in his own party for his willingness to make deals with Democrats. When he ran for re-election in 2014, he faced a primary challenge from four Tea Party-backed foes, which he won handily.

In his opening speech, Graham promised his fellow Republicans to “be a champion for limited and effective government,” but he also told Democrats that “on the big things, we share a common fate. I’ll work with you to strengthen the country we both love.”

“You’re not my enemy. You’re my fellow countrymen,” he said.

Should Graham the White House in 2016, he would be the first unmarried man elected to the nation’s top office since Grover Cleveland in 1884.

Graham is one of eight Southern Republican who have launched or are expected to launch presidential campaigns in 2016.

In addition to Paul, those already in the race include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. The others expected to get in include Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Rick Perry of Texas.

Watch Graham’s presidential announcement:

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