WASHINGTON (AP) — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Thursday said he has set up a committee to explore running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, portraying himself as a proven winner and a conservative willing to work with Democrats.
Graham told reporters that the committee, called, "Security Through Strength," would give him a way to raise money. He plans to visit New Hampshire and Iowa, the first to states to vote in the nomination fight, and see if his pragmatic message resonates.
"I mean, are we going to be a party that embraces the fact that Democrats exist and you can get no big deal done without their buy-in?" said Graham, 59.
On such issues as national security and President Barack Obama's health care law, Graham said: "If we don't like what Obama's offering the country, what would we offer the nation?"
Such pragmatism sounds too compromising to some conservatives who say they would stick firmly to positions favored by the party's activist base. Graham, they said, voted for Obama's nominees to the Supreme Court, is likely to vote for Loretta Lynch for attorney general and helped write a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill.
On Thursday, for example, Graham said he would consider an array of options — including some that are anathema to conservatives — to bring an end to automatic cuts to the Defense Department.
"Whatever it takes within reason to get this problem fixed is what I'm willing to do," said Sen. Graham, adding that he would be willing to consider more tax revenue "just to get the damn thing done."
More than a dozen Republicans, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, say they are considering running in 2016.
Graham bristled when asked how the party's conservative base could trust him given that voting record. He pointed out three times that he won the GOP nomination for Senate by 41 percentage points.
"I represent a form of conservatism that's acceptable in the reddest of red states," Graham said. "I am conservative by any rational definition."
Graham has been a close ally of Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who lost to Obama.
Graham cruised to re-election in November, easily defeating six GOP primary rivals who cited his history of negotiating with Democrats as proof that he wasn't conservative enough.