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Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

By John King, USA - November 2, 2011

KING: So, how is Herman Cain handling this campaign crisis, and how will it play out in the key early primary states? Let's talk to a senator who had dinner with Mr. Cain just last night, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of several Republican senators who sat down for dinner; Herman Cain also meeting with some Republican House members today.

Senator, just first up, you've been through a lot of these rodeos. You were up and down in the McCain campaign a few years ago. What do you make of all this?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it will pass, but, you know, Herman needs to chill out. He's confident he did nothing wrong. He knows what he did.

And the story will stick around for a while. Try not to be angry. Just tell the facts as you can remember them. They were a decade ago. It's not hurting him yet, and I don't think it will, as long as it stays inbounds of where it is today.

KING: Around the dinner table last night, how much sometime was spent on this?

GRAHAM: I didn't talk to him at all about it. I got there kind of late.

It was really a good dinner. We talked about foreign policy, about his campaign. You know, how do you account for his success. And it was very upbeat. Very charming fellow.

KING: When you hear him say, absolutely, emphatically no, never happened, do you take him at his word?

GRAHAM: Yes. I mean -- about the sexual harassment?

KING: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: Yes, I think -- yes. In his mind, he did nothing wrong. It's hard for him, hard for his family, hard for the campaign. I'm sure it's hard for these two ladies.

You know, this was 12 years ago, and a $35,000 settlement, when you take out attorney fees, you know, quite frankly, is not a whole lot of money in these things, even though $35,000 is a lot of money to the average person. So the settlement itself says a lot about, I think, the way it was perceived.

KING: I want to make sure our viewers know you're an accomplished attorney, not just a member of the United States Senate, as you make that judgment.

Well, you know, you went through the ups and downs with John McCain, you went through campaign crisis. When you see this, we might have a he said/she said about the allegations, let's set that aside a little bit, now we have a he said/he said about who's responsible. Mr. Cain pointing the finger about a veteran Republican operative, saying I told him about this when he worked for my Senate campaign, now he works for Rick Perry. That operative saying never happened, no way, no how.

How's that going to impact the race?

GRAHAM: You know, I think it takes it in a different area, like you say, John. And my advice to Mr. Cain just chill out. If you don't know how it came about, don't accuse somebody unless you know it for sure because you don't want to be accused of something based on innuendo or suspicion. So if you really don't know the young man did this, you shouldn't say it.

You can suspect it, I suppose, but obviously somebody leaked this with Herman's best interests not in mind. This is a political deal. This came out because of political reasons. And it could have been a lot of people.

KING: You twice have made the point he needs to chill out. Do you get the sense that he has the right group, the experienced group, the measure, the calm group around him? A presidential level campaign team that will help him get through this?

GRAHAM: I think he's behaving like an average person would, who feels like, you know, they're turning my life upside down. This happened 12 years ago, it was settled, I did not wrong. And I think he's, you know, taken back by it all.

But they'll get better at this, because it does come with the job. And as you know, somebody leaked this story, trying to do political damage to him, and now he has to show the public that he can withstand attacks like this because it's part of the job, unfortunately.

KING: The United States Senate is known as the world's greatest deliberative body. I have been up there enough to know --

GRAHAM: Oh, we're certainly deliberative.

KING: The cloakroom is also one of the great gossip and water cooler conversations in the United States of America when it comes to politics.

When people talk about this -- obviously, you guys talk about the status of the presidential campaign, all the big things in politics all the time -- what is the buzz on the Hill about this? What do people think about it?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, everybody's so smart up here. You know, get all the details out. Well, you know, it's 12 years ago. You know, we're all really smart about how to handle these things, until it happens to you.

The public is what Herman's worried about, not the cloakroom. And apparently the public understands that Herman's a sincere, honest guy, trying to run for president in a different fashion and are responding well to him.

You know, not one senator, including me, would have predicted Herman Cain leading the pack at this stage. So what do we know?

KING: So let's look at your state. You know a bit about South Carolina and the conservative voters in South Carolina. In our latest poll in South Carolina, conducted just last week -- and I want to be clear, before this, so we'll get a sense in our next one whether or not this has any impact -- but before this, Governor Romney, 25 percent, Herman Cain, 23 percent. Then you drop down to Congressman Paul and Rick Perry at 12 and 11, respectively. And if you look closely at the very critical group of Evangelical vote, voter who is identify themselves as born-again Christians in your state, Senator, Herman Cain leading the pack at 28 percent, Ron Paul at 10, Perry, 16. Romney, 19.

So among that critical Evangelical, almost certain to turn out base, he's doing quite well. Will this hurt him?

GRAHAM: You know, I really don't think so, if it stays within the confines of a 12-year-old accusation that was settled for $35,000 and, you know, that's it. It never went to court. You know, I'm a lawyer, and I can tell you, you'd spend a lot more than $35,000 defending one of these things. So I don't think so. It hasn't hurt his fund- raising, and you're right, John, if the election were held tomorrow in South Carolina, Herman Cain would win the South Carolina primary.

What he's got to prove to people is that he's ready to be president of the United States. He's never held elected office before, that may be an asset in the climate in which we live. He was really interested in foreign policy, had a sense, I'm going to listen to the commanders. I want to leave Iraq and Afghanistan too, but I don't want us to have to go back.

So I was really impressed with how grounded he was on a national security vision, even though he doesn't have a lot of experience. So if the election were held tomorrow, Herman would win South Carolina.

KING: Senator Lindsey Graham of the great state of South Carolina, appreciate your time tonight. We'll stay in touch, sir, as the campaign unfolds. We'll see you soon.

GRAHAM: Thank you. 

John King, USA

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