Lindsey Graham launches 2016 bid

Lindsey Graham, in His Own Words

CENTRAL, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has kicked off his presidential campaign.

He launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in the small South Carolina town called Central, where he grew up.

He told supporters Monday: "I'm ready. I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us."

Graham is a prominent Senate voice in seeking a more muscular foreign policy. He wants 10,000 more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize a world that he's characterized as "falling apart."

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.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

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Lindsey Graham launches 2016 bid
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference in Riga, Latvia, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during a press conference about his resistance to the so-called "Skinny Repeal" of the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
UNITED STATES - MARCH 21: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questions Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch on the second day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Hart Building, March 21, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) introduces Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (L) at a town hall meeting with employees at FN America gun manufacturers in Columbia, South Carolina February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 07: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) departs a military briefing for U.S. senators on the recent U.S. attack in Syria April 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory strike yesterday in response to the use of chemical weapons by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) depart after the failure of the "skinny repeal" health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) rides on the Senate subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Senator John McCain (L) listens as Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference in Riga, Latvia December 28, 2016. Picture taken December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), left, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), right, meet with Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, center, on Capitol Hill in Washington March 21, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during the 2015 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum March 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. Prospective 2016 presidential candidates from both political parties participated in the presidential forum during the conference which hosted by the International Association of Fire Fighters. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch (L) meets with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (L), who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) head for the Senate Floor for a vote at the U.S. Capitol July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. GOP efforts to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, were dealt setbacks when a mix of conservative and moderate Republican senators joined Democrats to oppose procedural measures on the bill. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 20: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., hold a news conference to discuss the bipartisan 'The Dream Act of 2017' in the Capitol on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) at the conclusion of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing about Russian intereference in the 2016 election in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Lindsey Graham will formally launch his bid for president in the small South Carolina town where he grew up. His White House ambitions are rooted half a world away in the Middle East.

When kicking off his campaign Monday, South Carolina's senior senator is sure to blast President Barack Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq, insist on the need to strong-arm Iran over its nuclear program and work to subdue the violent Islamic State militants who have gained footholds in Iraq and Syria.

Yet in the early days of the 2016 campaign for president, Graham has already gone further than most of his rivals for the GOP nomination in saying how he would tackle such problems, while acknowledging the potential costs of his strategy.

Graham wants to put an additional 10,000-plus U.S. troops into Iraq, adding to the several thousand there now working as trainers and advisers only. He says it could take even more troops to stabilize the Middle East over time, adding "more American soldiers will die in Iraq and eventually in Syria to protect our homeland."

The Islamic State militants, Graham argued at a recent campaign stop, "want to purify their religion and they want to destroy ours and blow up Israel. Every day they get stronger over there, the more likely we are to get hit over here."

He added, "I don't know how to defend this nation, ladies and gentlemen, with all of us sitting here at home."

It's 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.

A February poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found 63 percent of adults backed some kind of military campaign against the Islamic State group, compared to 30 percent who disapprove. When asked about using ground troops, support dropped to 47 percent - with 49 percent opposed.

Further, the same survey found Americans almost evenly divided on whether military force is "the best way to defeat terrorism" or whether it "creates hatred that leads to more terrorism."

Graham's hawkish approach stands in stark contrast to his fellow U.S. senator and presidential candidate, Kentucky's Rand Paul, who favors less military intervention abroad. It's also notable for its specifics, especially his warning that U.S. troops are likely to perish in the Middle East as part of his approach.

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a recent speech in Georgia that "we should work with our allies that want to stand against ISIS," he's described that role as helping with the "weapons, equipment and training" needed for a "long fight."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he'd "take the fight to them before they take the fight to us," but he has yet to detail what that entails. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, writing over the weekend in The Washington Post, said the U.S. should increase the number of American troops in Iraq, but unlike Graham, didn't say how many ought to deploy.

While Graham barely registers now in national polls that will be used to determine which candidates are invited to the GOP's presidential primary debates beginning this summer, he argues Republican voters will reward him for his blunt talk about future American casualties.

"Look, I know from polling that (national security) is the No. 1 issue in Iowa and New Hampshire" among likely GOP voters, he said. "And I've been more right than wrong," he adds, noting that he was an early supporter of the troop "surge" in Iraq under President George W. Bush and was always critical of Obama's effort to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Graham hammers Obama for not playing a more active role in establishing a functioning, democratic government in Libya after revolutionaries toppled Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. And he insists that Obama's work to reach a nuclear accord with Iran is in vain, because the Iranians are "liars" who won't stick to whatever inspections and restrictions make up an eventual deal.

"To the Iranians: You want a piece of a nuclear power program, you can have it," Graham says as part of his standard campaign speech. "If you want a bomb, you're not going to get it. If you want a war, you're going to lose it."

After a pause, he adds, "There's no other way to talk in the Mideast."

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