U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., faces a primary election in less than two weeks, but the chief concern on his mind Thursday night in Rock Hill seemed to be someone else's political fortunes.
That would be close friend and ally John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee and senator from Arizona. Graham has emerged as one of McCain's most passionate surrogates. As he spoke to 100 people at a barbecue rally in Cherry Park, it wasn't hard to tell why.
Graham, 52, breezed through a stump speech about his Senate campaign. Then, he came to life when he turned to McCain's bid for the presidency.
No topic sparked more emotion from Graham than the war in Iraq. He called it "absolutely ridiculous" that McCain's likely opponent, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, hasn't yet held a one-on-one meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces.
Graham also criticized Obama for making only one visit to Iraq, saying the Illinois senator is "afraid" of offending antiwar groups such as MoveOn.org. "He will never challenge the left," Graham said. "He's all talk."
Obama visited Iraq in 2006 and said this week he is considering a second trip before the November election.
"What's happened in the last year and a half is phenomenal," Graham said. "To play like it didn't happen is a disgrace. You need to go over there and see what's happened. John (McCain) invited him, and he said no."
Graham's speech offers a preview of the strategy McCain will employ across the country this fall.
Whether it succeeds with voters is another matter. Polls show a majority of Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq, and President Bush's own former press secretary says in a new book that the war was a strategic blunder.
Obama says McCain would continue Bush's failed policies.
"This year's Republican primary was a contest to see which candidate could out-Bush the other, and that is the contest John McCain won," Obama said earlier this month.
In response to a question from The Herald, Graham said he was "shocked" to hear of the scathing criticism in a book by former Bush aide Scott McClellan. Reminded that some of McClellan's claims are similar to those put forth by McCain, Graham nodded in agreement, saying, "John has a different decision-making style."
Graham and McCain spent much of the past week together out west, sorting through potential GOP running mates. This weekend, Graham is taking a break to work on his campaign.