Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on March 12, 2015.National Journal

The ghost of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign will haunt Republicans in 2016.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina hawk who McCain has referred to as his "illegitimate son," announced that he is running for president Monday in his hometown of Central, South Carolina.

"I want to be president to meet our problems head on," Graham said. "Honestly and realistically, for the purpose of solving them, not hiding them or taking political advantage of them."

And while Graham's campaign will certainly differ from McCain's 2008 run, the two senators' near-identical ideologies provides a good blueprint for how Graham is likely to position himself among his Republican competition.

In 2008, McCain as a presidential candidate represented a hawkishness that voters had wearied of over the course of the 2000s. He lost. In 2016, many of the same old fears of terrorism have resurfaced, and Americans may once again be ready for a more aggressive outlook on foreign policy.

Graham brought the aggression Monday. He said that as president, he'll defeat those who are "trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them."

"Simply put, radical Islam is running wild," Graham said. "They have more safe havens, more money and capability, and more weapons to strike our homeland than anytime since 9/11. They are large, rich, and entrenched. As president, I will make them small, poor, and on the run."

Graham's candidacy has two main effects: making South Carolina—a coveted early primary state—more difficult for a front-runner to win, and making Sen. Rand Paul look like an isolationist. On the latter issue, it will be easy for Graham to juxtapose himself against Paul, who is attempting to move his foreign policy views more in line with the rest of the Republican Party when it comes to foreign intervention.

"We have learned over the past six years that speeches alone will not make us safe," Graham said. "If that were true, we would be really safe. Superior power and resolve is the only way to be safe. I am running for president of the United States because I am ready to be commander in chief on day one."

Graham said he has more national security experience than any of the other 2016 presidential candidates.

"That includes you, Hillary," he said, to loud applause from the crowd.

Graham relies on his hard-right positions on foreign policy and abortion to earn him kudos within conservative circles, but unlike fellow establishment Republicans, Graham supports a legislative pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as well as for so-called DREAMers. While Jeb Bush has firmly supported both those causes, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker have been scrambling to distance themselves from previous pro-amnesty stances.

It's a strategy that has worked well for him with South Carolina voters, but it's unclear how far that will take him in a national election. The spot Graham is trying to fill is someone who is more conservative than Paul or Bush and more pragmatic than Sen. Ted Cruz. But while Graham may be McCain's younger clone, Graham already has his own fresh-faced doppelgänger in the Senate, vying for the same spot: Marco Rubio.


Nora Kelly contributed to this article

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