Knocked Off Debate Stage, Lindsey Graham Pumps Money into NH

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party, at the Iowa State Fair October 31, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. With just 93 days before the Iowa caucuses Republican hopefuls are trying to shore up support amongst the party.
Steve Pope/Getty Images

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham will not be part of the Republican debate on Milwaukee on Tuesday. Polling less than 1 percent nationally, Graham didn’t make the cut for even the undercard of the Fox Business/Wall Street Journal GOP debate.

The Graham campaign is deflecting the news by announcing a new ad buy in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state.

Graham’s new ad, titled “Make It Count,” features his Senate colleague, John McCain, making the case for the South Carolinian’s. In a mild rebuke to other candidates, McCain says Graham is the only candidate “worthy” of the sacrifice made by men and women in uniform. Graham has had a long career as an attorney with the Air Force Reserves.

Graham retired from the Air Force Reserves in June, in the lead-up to his run for President. He has long pointed to his service as a military lawyer as providing insights to his focus on national security issues. While exact details of his service have been under debate in the past, he has staked out a strong position favoring the robust use of American military force in conflicts around the world.

Graham, along with McCain, was an early supporter of military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Two years ago, when reports surfaced that the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons, Graham called for dispatching American troops to Syria to secure those weapons.

“Absolutely, you’ve got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons,” Graham said in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine. “I don’t care what it takes.”

It is unclear how much Sen. Graham’s campaign is spending on the New Hampshire ad buy, but it isn’t the first time voters there have heard his message. His “Security Is Strength” Super PAC has already spent almost $3 million advertising in the state over the last three months. This summer, the Super PAC announced that it had raised almost $4 million, drawing from donors including gambling magnate Shelden Adelson and Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric.

That spending, which puts him near the top of candidates buying ads in New Hampshire, has done little to move his poll numbers. In the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls, Graham currently enjoys the support of 0.5 percent of Republicans in the Granite State. His highest polling in the state was back at the end of July, before his Super PAC started running TV ads. He polled at 2 percent then.

Graham seems to be following the time-honored tradition of running for President to gain attention for one’s policy perspective or promote a unique policy position. Magazine Publisher Steve Forbes won enormous attention for his flat tax proposal when he ran a quixotic campaign for President in 1996. Forbes’ proposal still commands a great deal of attention among conservatives and Republicans.

Graham seems to be campaigning for a vigorous use of America’s military power. His campaign is not only trying to put national security into the center of the Presidential debate, but gain acceptance for his particular approach to national security.

It must be sobering, then, that his campaign is languishing even while foreign affairs are dominating the headlines. The American public is well aware of the challenges our nation faces in national security and foreign affairs. The importance of these issues isn’t the question. Graham’s approach to them is, however.

If $3 million from Graham’s Super PAC can’t move the needle in New Hampshire, it is not likely that more spending from his own campaign will make much more of a difference. Perhaps John McCain can help. It is more likely, though, that neither of them has much to say any more to voters in New Hampshire.