POLITICS

Lindsey Graham Walks Onto His Field Of Dreams

This is the second installment of '16 And President, the Huffington Post series on the candidates running for president and the campaigns they're running.

DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- At this time of year, the corn was only chest high. Kevin Costner was nowhere in sight, and there were no ghosts of early 20th century baseball players either.

Nonetheless, when Lindsey Graham and I made it to the edge of right field at the iconic cornfield diamond in rural Iowa where “Field of Dreams” was shot, I considered asking the South Carolina senator to participate in a no-budget re-enactment of the movie’s most memorable image.

But Graham, I reminded myself, is seeking the nation’s highest office, not a fleeting moment of Internet video notoriety.

And so I began reassuring the Republican presidential candidate that I wasn’t going to request that he wade into the corn for the benefit of our cameras. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, Graham had already taken his first step into the dense crop, showing off the self-assured strut of a long-shot 2016 contender with nothing to lose.

Emerging from the corn like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Graham took a swing of an imaginary bat and offered me a celebratory fist bump -- his preferred greeting to everyone under 40 whom he's encountered in the nation’s first caucus state.

Throughout the impeccable Iowa summer day that HuffPost spent with him for the latest installment of our series ’16 And President, Graham was up for just about anything.

As one of the less-recognizable major candidates in the field, he blended in with the small crowds that greeted him and stuck around to answer everyone’s questions. The jovial candidate seemed to have a punch line for every setup that came his way.

In an era of carefully stage-managed events and always-on-script candidates, Graham was as freewheeling in his style as he was eager to highlight the areas in which he disagrees with Republican orthodoxy. When he was challenged repeatedly over his support for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds or his opposition to advocating a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, he pushed back with vigor.

At several points throughout the day, he brought up, without prompting, his support for comprehensive immigration reform -- a deeply unpopular position among broad swaths of Iowa's Republican caucus-goers.

But if anyone were to start thinking that Graham was some kind of moderate squish, they needed only to listen to him on his favorite topic: foreign policy. When it comes to America’s role in the world and his willingness to use force to turn back the Islamic State (also known as ISIL), Lindsey Graham is Dick Cheney with a smile.

“The eight ball is ISIL,” Graham announced as he lined up his final shot in a game of barroom pool in Tama (population 2,839). “So what are we gonna do, ISIL?”

He sunk the shot.

“Kill ‘em!”

As Graham wholeheartedly admitted, without the small-stage, grassroots style of campaigning that plays in early voting states like Iowa, he “wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell” in the 2016 race. But as the rare national-level politician who is both approachable on a human level and quick on his feet discussing policy matters, Graham just might have a shot at working himself into the mix. The day that we spent with him demonstrated why.

Watch the video above for the latest installment of the HuffPost series '16 And President.

Story by Scott Conroy
Video produced by Jon Strauss
Cinematography by Jon Strauss and Samuel Wilkes
Associate production by Marielle Olentine

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