Graham’s decision opens up political space for the February 20 South Carolina primary
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — Mired in single digits in the polls and relegated to the undercard in the Republican debates, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has ended his bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
But Graham, who made national security and the battle against ISIS the centerpiece of his White House run, said his campaign has changed the conversation within the Republican field on those issues, pushing the party toward a more hawkish stance.
“I got into this race to put forward a plan to win a war we cannot afford to lose and to turn back the tide of isolationism that was rising in our party,” he said in a YouTube video posted December 22 announcing his departure. “I believe we made enormous progress in this effort.”
Graham said most the Republican candidates have come around to his thinking on one issue in particular–the need to use American ground forces to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Graham’s departure allows him to take his name off the ballot for the South Carolina primary, avoiding what could have been an embarrassing defeat in his home state.
South Carolina will hold its pivotal presidential primary on February 20, less than two weeks after the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. The vote in the Palmetto State will be the first test of strength in the South.
After his withdrawal announcement, Graham told CNN that he has no plans to endorse any of the other candidates in the field. However, his departure could free up Graham supporters in South Carolina to sign on with other candidates.
During the campaign, Graham has been a strong critic of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, which could give him a strong incentive to back another candidate who could defeat the real-estate magnate.
Graham, 60, won his third term in the Senate in 2014. He is one of the Senate’s strongest hawks on military and national security issues, but he has also run afoul of some conservatives in his party for supporting immigration reform and crossing the aisle to make bi-partisan deals with Democrats.
The remaining Southern GOP candidates are U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Jim Gilmore of Virginia.