WASHINGTON -- During the first Republican presidential debate last month in Cleveland, Ohio, a flat and somewhat dour Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) failed to stand out from his fellow "undercard" rivals for the GOP nomination.
Not so at Wednesday night's debate in Simi Valley, California, where the national security hawk put on a much more aggressive and energetic performance -- characteristics he is known for in conversations with reporters in the halls of Congress.
It wasn't so much the substance of Graham's arguments, which critiqued President Barack Obama's policies with respect to the Iran deal, radical Islam, Syria, and Russia. Rather, it was his forcefulness and his tendency to challenge fellow candidates on stage.
When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal asked Graham why congressional Republicans failed to stop Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, Graham didn't back down. He drew on his time in the Senate and urged conservatives to come to reality when it came to repealing Obamacare while Obama remained in office.
"Wait a minute, you asked me a question. President Obama is president. Bobby, he would veto the bill, we don't have 67 votes," Graham told Jindal about overturning the Affordable Care Act.
"I'm not going to tell you things I know I can't do," he added. "All that does is hurt us. I'm trying to lead this party to winning."
Graham also flashed some of his characteristic humor in the debate. He joked that he'd bring people together in Washington by urging them to "drink more," a line he frequently uses on the campaign trail. And he was self-deprecating, telling viewers that although he "wasn't the best law student," by the end of the debate "it'd be the most time I'd spent in any library."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may have foreshadowed Graham's awakening at a campaign event in New Hampshire last weekend. When someone asked McCain how Graham, his good friend, was doing in the race, McCain said, "He gets better every time I see him."
Read the latest updates on the GOP debate here.
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