LACONIA — "Are you getting paid while I talk," Lindsey Graham asked a room full of employees at the Titeflex Aerospace plant yesterday. When a woman in the middle of the room answered "yes," he replied "good, I've got three hours."
The visit to Titeflex was the first of three stops during the 42nd day the United States Senator from South Carolina has spent in New Hampshire since announcing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Although Graham continues to run near the rear of the pack, his enthusiasm appears undiminished.
Graham recalled that he grew up sharing one room with his parents and sister behind the Sanitary Cafe, a restaurant, bar, liquor store and pool hall his family operated in Central, South Carolina, a town of less than 2,000 in the western reach of the state midway between Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina on the railroad. "I knew the world for what it is," he remarked. His parents passed away when he was 22, leaving his younger sister an orphan. With the survivor benefits, Graham, adopted his sister and enrolled at the University of South Carolina, the first member of his family to attend college. After earning his law degree, Graham served 33 years in the United States Air Force in the Judge Advocates Corps, retiring as a colonel in 2015. Graham served four terms in the United States House of Representatives, from 1994 until 2002 when he was elected to the first of three terms in the Senate.
Known for his hawkish approach to foreign policy, Graham began by taking aim at what he called "radical Islam," those he said who seek to "purify their faith, destroy Israel and then come after infidels like us." To counter the threat, he said America must put "boots on the ground" and form a coalition of the friendly Arab states and Turkey — "90 percent them and 10 percent us — to eliminate ISIS. He expressed his strong support for companies like Titeflex that produce military hardware. "I'm not looking for a fair fight," he said. "I want more stuff than they've got. I want to kick their ass."
At the same time, Graham called for tighter security and greater vigilance against the risk of terrorism in the United States. "I think we're fighting a war," he said. "If there is a terrorist on one end of the phone, I want to know who's on the other end." When domestic terrorists are apprehended, he remarked "the last thing they'll here is 'you have a right to remain silent."
Turning to domestic issues, Graham asked "how many of you were born between 1946 and 1964?" To those who raised their hands he offered congratulations: "you're baby boomers". Then he asked how many were born after 1964 and to those said flatly "good luck".
Apart from the national debt of $18 trillion debt, which he calls a result of "bipartisanship", Graham said that the echo of the baby boom will face the risk of shrinking Social Security and Medicare benefits. He said that retirement age should be increase to 69 and benefits for those, like himself, earning $175,000 or more should be eliminated. "I'm willing to work with the Democrats to do the really big stuff like the entitlement programs," he said.
Opposed to increasing the minimum wage, Graham said that he favored lowering taxes and easing regulation, which would spur the growth of the economy and increase the competition for labor, which in turn would raise wage and salary levels. "The American dream used to be owning your home," he remarked, "now for many young people it's getting out of your house."
Graham said that his campaign hinges on finishing well in the New Hampshire primary, which is followed on the electoral calendar by the primary in his home state of South Carolina. Strong finishes in each, he believes, would put him among the frontrunners. Meanwhile, he is polling in the single digits, but apparently enjoying every stop of every day on the campaign, perhaps knowing he will still have a home in the Senate.
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