Lindsey Graham to test 2016 Republican presidential waters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Thursday formed a political organization to explore a potential run for his party’s presidential nomination, the latest high-profile politician to test the 2016 waters.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) arrives for a news conference about proposed gun violence legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Graham would attempt to use his South Carolina home base to his advantage for any potential run, since the Southern state is typically the third to hold a nominating contest in presidential election years, after Iowa and New Hampshire.

“What I’m looking at is, is there a pathway forward on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire for a guy like me? I don’t know until I look,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Graham is a hawk on defense and foreign policy, generally aligned with Senator John McCain, one of his best friends. In his statement announcing his intentions, he cited the battle against Islamic extremism as a top priority.

He holds moderate views on how to deal with illegal immigrants, which could put him afoul some conservatives. He said Republicans need to improve their standing with Latino voters after 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney got less than a third of their support.

“A center-right candidacy can prevail in America,” he said.

Graham joins a list of more than a 15 Republicans who are thinking about running for president, a group that includes Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Graham formed a committee called “Security Through Strength,” which allows him to raise money to fund travel around the country to gauge support for a candidacy.

He said Security Through Strength also requires “a sound and growing economy with a nation that becomes energy independent over time.”

Graham’s organization is headed by David Wilkins, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada under President George W. Bush and a former speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Political strategist Christian Ferry and long-time Graham adviser Scott Farmer were named to guide the “testing the waters” effort.

Reporting By Steve Holland; editing by Andrew Hay and Richard Chang