US Sen. Graham opens Rock Hill office, talks foreign policy at Winthrop

jzou@heraldonline.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Sen. Lindsey Graham took a break from domestic policy to vouch for greater U.S. involvement in the Middle East during a lecture at Winthrop University on Thursday morning.

Graham, who faces several Republican challengers for re-election this year, focused on foreign policy while addressing the crowd of students.

He made an earlier stop a block away from campus to open a Rock Hill office specifically for campaign efforts – one of several the incumbent has throughout the state, including sites in Greenville, Clemson and Columbia.

“York County is becoming a real player in Republican politics,” Graham said of the decision to base a campaign office in Rock Hill, adding that the county is also an “economic hub.”

The senator’s main office in downtown Rock Hill is still open for official senate-related business. The new office off Oakland Avenue will be open temporarily until the June 10 Republican primary and is maintained separately by campaign staff.

The self-described Ronald Reagan Republican said his primary goal this election is to bring out voters and capture at least 50 percent of the primary vote. Challengers include tea party favorite Lee Bright, a state senator representing Greenville and Spartanburg counties.

Graham has been a vocal proponent of more extensive U.S. action in the Middle East when it comes to Syria and Iran, and has defended vast National Security Agency surveillance tactics that came to light last year.

Several hands went up in the air when Graham asked the crowd who was concerned about the NSA, which he countered by saying that such intelligence programs are crucial in staying ahead of radical Islamic groups that seek to “destroy our way of life.”

Graham’s stance on the NSA, coupled with his reputation as a bipartisan legislator on polarizing bills like immigration reform, have made him a target of those on the far right.

He said that while he tends to agree with the tea party base about “80 percent of the time,” his willingness to work across party lines means he “knows how to solve problems in government.”

“Do we need another voice that just yells and doesn’t fix anything?” Graham asked. “I don’t just talk about things, I’ve done things.” The senator sits on several committees including appropriations, budget and armed services.

Graham also criticized the government’s handling of the 2012 consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, calling for a clearer look into the situation.

“I thought he gave a very fair assessment of the Benghazi situation,” said Elizabeth Yost, 20, a junior at Winthrop.

Yost said the lecture was most interesting when Graham took questions from the crowd and started talking about the Republican Party’s need to appeal to minorities.

Yost, president of Winthrop’s College Democrats, said she thinks Graham’s moderate and traditional Republican stance makes him a more appealing candidate to younger voters than those representing tea party politics.

“I’m of the opinion that conservatism will sell to any group if it’s packaged right,” said Graham.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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