U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed to fight military cuts and to support Beaufort's bases Thursday during a campaign stop.
Speaking to a room of about 20 supporters at the Beaufort Realty Co. office on Boundary Street, Graham focused on President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday that he plans to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
Graham said the reduction in force would hurt Afghanistan's rebuilding effort and mark a first step toward deeper cuts to U.S. armed forces.
"If we don't change course in Washington, we're going to gut the military," he said. "We're not fighting Germans and Japanese anymore; we're fighting radical Islam. It will come back our way."
Graham will face six Republican challengers in the June 10 primary.
The senator said it was crucial to protect Beaufort's three military installations, noting their impact on the local economy. If full sequestration cuts -- implemented if the military budget does not drop below mandated spending caps -- take effect, the Marine Corps could close one of its training facilities and reduce the number of F-35B fighter jets built. That would put the county's two Marine bases at risk, he said. The F-35B is scheduled to arrive in June at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, which will house training squadrons for the new Joint Strike Fighters. The county is also home to Marine Corp Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Sequestration could also lead to a round of base realignment and closures "on steroids" as the military's size is reduced across the board, Graham said.
As to his re-election campaign, "the path to victory runs through your front yard," he said, thanking supporters for their help. He called the small Beaufort Realty Co. office, loaded with campaign stickers and signs, "the launching pad for victory in Beaufort County."
"You can't buy an election in South Carolina," he said. "You win by word of mouth. The signs you put up and the phone calls you make are the best advertising. If your neighbors don't like you, they probably don't like me."
In addition to fighting military cuts, Graham said he hoped to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, responding to recent reports that the VA system has delayed critical care and manipulated patient records. Graham said veterans should be able to choose private health care services, rather than relying on a VA center that could be overloaded.
"The VA has a monopoly on a veteran's health care," he said. "We need to empower the veteran and give them choices."
Graham said he was confident about next month's primary.
"I've never felt better about the campaign," he said. "... I've never had this much energy behind me."
According to Politico, a poll released Tuesday shows Graham avoiding a primary runoff with 56 percent support. His nearest challenger is Easley businessman Richard Cash at 7 percent. State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, came in third with 6 percent in the poll, followed by Charleston public-relations executive Nancy Mace at 5 percent, Columbia pastor Det Bowers at 4 percent, and Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor and Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn each at 1 percent.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.