McCain would back Graham over Palin in 2016

U.S. Sen. John McCain on Friday signaled he would back U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina over his former running mate Sarah Palin in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.

McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, has been an early and unabashed supporter of Graham, his friend and fellow Senate Armed Services Committee member who on Thursday took steps to officially “test the waters” of a White House bid by organizing a political committee.

But Palin, a former Alaska governor and McCain’s 2008 pick for vice president, on Jan. 23 told the Washington Post she is “seriously interested” in running for president, although a subsequent widely panned speech in Iowa may have already hobbled her chances for a political comeback.

“If Sarah decides to run, I’d certainly wish her well, but, as you know, Lindsey Graham is the person I am most supportive of,” McCain told The Arizona Republic. “But I certainly think she would add a lot to the race. She’s a very forceful personality.”

Though McCain and Palin hail from different — and often warring — wings of the Republican Party, they have maintained a warm relationship in the years since their unsuccessful campaign against President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and usually go out of their way to avoid criticizing each other. The conservative “tea party” favorite lives part time in Scottsdale and campaigned in Arizona on behalf of McCain’s 2010 re-election to the Senate.

However, Graham worked tirelessly for McCain in the 2008 race and McCain told The Republic in October that he and Graham are “the closest of friends.” McCain and Graham also were two of the four Republican members of the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who collaborated on a 2013 comprehensive immigration-reform bill.

“Lindsey has formed an exploratory committee, Senator Graham has, and as national-security issues become more and more predominant, the better his chances are, since his credentials are unmatched,” McCain said Friday.

Graham, who hopes to mount a center-right campaign, probably can expect a negative reaction from conservative activists who view the Gang of Eight legislation as offering “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. McCain, a longtime champion of immigration reform, faced similar critics in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but was still able to secure the 2008 nomination.

“There is a realization on everybody’s part that the issue has to be addressed sooner or later,” McCain said. “But I know he’s a strong advocate of a secure border.”

In other developments:

— Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 rival of McCain’s and the 2012 GOP nominee, announced Friday that he would not mount a third campaign for the presidency in 2016.

“He had contacted me and told me that he was considering running again,” McCain said. “I believe he is a very admirable man who served his state and the country and the party, and I believe he has a lot more to contribute.”

— McCain still has yet to formally reveal his intentions with regard to his own re-election in 2016, but he continues to leave little doubt that he is running. Newly elected U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who delivered this year’s Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union speech, will headline a Feb. 20 “Winning Women for McCain Luncheon” fundraiser in Phoenix to benefit his campaign.

“She certainly is a rising star,” McCain said. “I was glad to have the opportunity of supporting her early and campaigning with her out in Iowa.”

— McCain made headlines Thursday when, in his role as Senate Armed Services chairman, he ordered anti-war Code Pink protesters to “Get out of here, you low-life scum.”

The Code Pink demonstrators disrupted a committee hearing by calling for the arrest of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for alleged war crimes during the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Kissinger was set to testify on national security strategy along with former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright.

“It’s not free speech when you physically confront a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder,” McCain told The Republic. “If it hadn’t have been for a couple of people intervening, they could have harmed him physically.”

The liberal Code Pink activists took McCain’s “low-life scum” insult as a badge of honor, based on their later comments on Twitter.

“Shame on @SenJohnMcCain for saying that CODEPINK was involved in physical aggression against Kissinger,” Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin tweeted. “We are peace activists!!!”

Nowicki is The Republic’s national political reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @dannowicki and on his official Facebook page.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/azdc/2015/01/31/mccain-would-back-lindsey-graham-over-sarah-palin-for-2016-nomination/22611627/