A day after the Iowa Republican Party settled on Boone as the site for its Iowa Straw Poll, a prospective presidential candidate is RSVP’ing he won’t be there. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Radio Iowa this morning that he won’t participate in the Iowa GOP’s “Straw Poll” in August.
“Take a pass,” Graham said during a telephone interview, laughing. “I’m not going to go, you know, pay people to vote for me. We’ll let the people of Iowa do it for free. To me, the Straw Poll is more of a political sideshow.”
Campaigns of the past have purchased tickets to the event for supporters and some even provided bus service to the Straw Poll site as well as food and entertainment once supporters arrived. Graham, who is still in the “testing the waters” phase of a campaign, isn’t going to be shelling out any cash for that kind of effort at the Straw Poll.
“What I’m going to try to do is build an organization, starting with you’ve got 17,000 people in Iowa — members of the National Guard — who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11,” Graham said. “I want to get to know some of the military veterans, some of your National Guard folks. I want to get to know small business people, the farmers and go around and meet people. You know, I’m solid social conservative. I’m a pro-life-traditional-marriage kind of guy, with 33 years in the military. I want to talk about the threats we face and that’s what I’ll be doing instead of going to the Straw Poll.”
Graham, who has served in congress since 1995, is a lawyer in the Air Force Reserves and teaches periodically at the Air Force School for military lawyers. He visited Iowa twice in February and has hired Tracie Gibler as an advisor. Gibler is a former staffer for Congressman Steve King’s staff and ran two campaigns for Republican congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
“I told Tracie: ‘Listen, I’ve never run for president before. I’ve been around John McCain twice, but it’s different when it’s you.’ And she’s never managed a statewide campaign before. We’ll learn together. We’ll make our fair share of mistakes. We’ll have fun, we will always do is try to tell the people of Iowa what I think about the threats we face,” Graham said. “…We’re going to speak truth to power. We’re going to tell some jokes. We’re going to have fun.”
On Monday, Graham was in New Hampshire meeting with voters who’ll cast the first primary ballots in the 2016 presidential election and Graham is firing back at critics of something he said there.
“The 9/11 truthers, the people who started all this, believe that 9/11 was an inside job,” Graham told Radio Iowa, with a laugh. “So I’m not going to shape my approach to Iowa and New Hampshire around people who are going to twist and turn and have a world view that I think is just completely off base.”
Graham got a few chuckles from the New Hampshire crowd when he quipped that he would “literally use the military” to stop congress from leaving town before fixing scheduled cuts to the Defense Department. Graham told Radio Iowa this morning that he’s not going to stop using sarcasm or jokes to make his political points.
“The critics coming from that corner of America I’ll just deal with,” Graham said, adding: “Show up at the next town hall ’cause I am funny. I do have some things to say.”
Graham has said he is considering a run for the White House to inject a serious discussion of national security issues into the presidential campaign. Graham has a more immediate concern, however, about the looming budget cuts for the U.S. military and Graham said he’s working with a bipartisan group of senators in hopes of reversing those cuts sometime this year.