South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s exit from the race for the Republican presidential nomination may sound like a “so what?” moment for anybody who only focuses on national polls to formulate political predictions, but his departure frees up at least one supporter who could play an important role in the nation’s first primary state: John McCain. The Arizona senator who had closely aligned himself to Graham's White House bid can now lend his support to any other candidate he pleases, and that vote of confidence could be a powerful message to voters in New Hampshire, a state that has been good to McCain in the past.
“Even though the John McCain style is out of vogue in this election cycle, the one place he has a big impact is in New Hampshire,” Ford O’Connell, a political strategist who worked for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said, referring to McCain's general reputation as a traditional and respectful politician (the 2008 general contest not withstanding). O’Connell said that Graham and McCain have a long history together, and that the South Carolinian also spent a lot of time on the 2008 campaign trail to help boost his Southwest colleague's odds.
With that said, it is still unclear who might win McCain’s favor now that Graham has called it quits. The 2008 nominee may not throw his weight behind anyone else before the New Hampshire primary occurs, O’Connell. Instead, he’ll likely wait it out while commenting on their specific policy proposals. If there’s anyone who McCain seems most likely to agree with – and it is definitely possible he could still make a last minute decision in the week between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire to tip the scales against Donald Trump – it would likely be one of two candidates who have been rising recently in polls.
“I promise you that, whoever he backs, it will not be Donald Trump,” he said. “I see McCain weighing in on issues, but, you know, if you had to look: I think [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie and [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio are likely.”