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By Niels Lesniewski, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

Just hours after Sen. Rand Paul claimed victory in his quest to rein in the National Security Agency, the leader of what the Kentucky Republican termed the “eye-roll caucus” threw his own hat into the 2016 presidential ring.

Sen. Lindsey Graham formally launched his presidential bid with a predictably foreign policy-heavy speech in his hometown of Central, South Carolina, where he grew up in a tiny space at his parents’ bar room and pool hall.

Graham’s most high-profile backer, fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, on Sunday said that Paul “would be the worst candidate that we could put forward, not just on the Patriot Act but on his views on national security.”

Viewed a serious long shot, Graham has insisted that he wouldn’t jump in if he did not see a path toward the nomination, and it’s clear that the national security hawk is hoping that his worldview will have a place in Iowa and New Hampshire, setting him up to have an opportunity to win his home Palmetto State.

While avoiding direct swipes at other senators who consider themselves would-be presidents, Graham conceded that the more libertarian-leaning voters are not his demographic.

“Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and stay safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else. I’m not your man,” Graham said. “Those who believe the best way to defend ourselves is to lead the world, to make history rather than be overwhelmed by it, I ask for your support.”

Graham, a military lawyer in addition to senator who just retired from the Air Force Reserve, has been known in the Senate for his outspokenness in favor of U.S. military intervention and engagement. He’s recently gone as far as to say that he wouldn’t have qualms about using unmanned aircraft to kill American citizens tied to terrorism.

He warned of the risk of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East to Israel. He talked of the threat posed by China, where the government’s been building islands in disputed waters, and of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Ukraine.

“If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaida or ISIL, I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you,” Graham said at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Day dinner in March, already sounding like a presidential candidate.

Graham said that his foreign policy experience would trump everyone else in the field.

“That includes you, Hillary,” he quipped, in a nod to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the clear Democratic front runner.

“The next president must be an informed and decisive commander in chief, ready immediately to address these threats. We’ve learned over the past six years that speeches alone won’t make us safer. Superior power and resolve will,” Graham said Monday. “I’m running for president because I am ready to be commander in chief on day one.”

Graham also did not mince words about domestic challenges pertaining to the federal budget. He’s been one of the Republicans most vocal about needing to find a way to overturn sequestration and deal with long-term issues with entitlement programs.

“We’re living longer and fewer workers are supporting more retirees. That’s unsustainable. Everybody knows it. Not everybody admits it,” Graham said. “We have to fix entitlement programs to make sure people who need the benefits the most receive them. That’s going to require determined presidential leadership.”

Noting the death of his own parents at a young age, Graham said he would take tough steps to support Social Security and Medicare, repeating a theme from his early travels around the country _ as if preparing to hit the road in his own version of McCain’s old “Straight Talk Express.”

Graham joins Paul, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas among Republican senators seeking the presidential nomination. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont is running on the Democratic side.

(c)2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Screenshot: YouTube/AP

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