Graham 'testing the waters' for 2016

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJudiciary chairman issues subpoena for full Mueller report The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Barr to allow some lawmakers to review less-redacted Mueller report as soon as next week MORE (R-S.C.) is taking another step toward 2016 with his new Security through Strength political committee to help him “test the waters” of a presidential bid. 

The committee's website is currently just one page, with a picture of Graham and a quote introducing the site, along with an explanation of the committee, the senator’s bio and a donation page. 

ADVERTISEMENT

David Wilkins, former President George W. Bush's ambassador to Canada and a former state House speaker, will serve as the group's president, according to a press release sent out to announce the launch. Graham's adviser and former campaign manager Scott Farmer and Christian Ferry, a deputy campaign manager for McCain's 2008 presidential bid, will also work for the committee. 

Graham said on Fox News’s "America’s Newsroom" on Thursday morning that the new committee will “allow people to donate money and their time and resources to see if there is a pathway forward for me.” 

“Ronald Reagan famously said his goal was to have peace through strength. In my view, you can never have peace with radical Islam. They want to destroy us and our way of life, so peaceful coexistence is a nonstarter from their point of view and, quite frankly, from my point of view, but you can have security,” he said, explaining the committee’s name. 

“I’m looking for security, not peace with radical Islam.”

Graham has repeatedly said he’s looking into a bid to fill what he believes is a national security void among the potential GOP candidates. His hawkish stance on foreign policy is often at odds with noninterventionist lawmakers like Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulBooker, Harris have missed most Senate votes Trump vetoes measure ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen Bottom line MORE (R-Ky.), who is also weighing a bid.  

Graham said last week on “Fox and Friends” that he’s “well-qualified” to be president and would have the backing of one major party giant: Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.). The two are very close friends, and the 2008 GOP presidential nominee has said he’d support Graham.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee said in a statement that Graham would be a retread of President George W. Bush's "failed economic policies" and slammed his foreign policy as "reckless."

“His entry into the race speaks volumes, however, about just how weak the 2016 Republican field is," he said. "Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney took early steps to try to scare people out of the race. Instead, they are scaring people in.”

The term “test the waters” is used by the Federal Election Committee to describe candidates who are unofficially exploring a presidential bid. Potential candidates have no special limits on the amount of money that they can raise or spend, outside of standard contribution limits.

But the FEC says potential candidates lose that freedom once they refer to themselves as a candidate, release an ad declaring their intention to campaign, raise “more money than reasonably needed to test the waters, or amasses funds to be used after the candidacy is established,” start testing shortly before an election, or try to put their name on a ballot. Once candidates are no longer “testing the waters,” they have to register with the FEC once they raise more than $5,000.

Currently, only one candidate has filed official papers for a presidential exploratory committee. Her name is Cherunda Lynn Fox, a Republican from Michigan.

— Peter Sullivan contributed.

This post was updated at 1:03 p.m.