Hawkish US Senator Lindsey Graham is latest Republican presidential candidate

US Senator Lindsey Graham. a Republican representing South Carolina, holds a supporter's baby after announcing his candidacy for United States President during an outdoor event on June 1 in his home state. -- PHOTO: AFP
US Senator Lindsey Graham. a Republican representing South Carolina, holds a supporter's baby after announcing his candidacy for United States President during an outdoor event on June 1 in his home state. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham launched his presidential bid Monday near his childhood home, insisting he is more qualified than any other candidate on national security issues - including Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Graham, 59, joins eight other GOP candidates already in the 2016 race, and with support for the three-term senator eclipsed by other White House hopefuls in national polls, he will be one of the clear underdogs in the crowded race.

A tenth candidate, former Texas governor and 2012 presidential also-ran Rick Perry, is expected to enter the race Thursday.

Highlighting his advocacy of a more interventionist foreign policy, Graham told a crowd in Central, South Carolina that "I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us".

And he stressed that he has "more experience with national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary".

Clinton, the prohibitive favourite on the Democratic side, was Obama's secretary of state for four years, experience that Graham insisted led to "some dangerous mistakes".

"Every day the headlines attest to the failures of the Obama/Clinton policies," he said, stressing they have made Americans "less safe".

Graham, who served in the US Air Force for decades as a reservist, is not the only Republican hopeful pushing a more interventionist, muscle-flexing foreign policy.

Senator Marco Rubio is doing the same, as is Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two presidents who is likely to run but has yet to officially launch a bid.

Graham contrasts with libertarian Republican candidate Rand Paul, a first-term senator who is considerably more doveish, and whose objections caused certain post-9/11 government surveillance powers to lapse on Sunday.

Graham is more sympathetic to immigration reform than most conservatives.

In 2013 he was one of four Republicans who helped craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but died in the House of Representatives.

Rubio, also a co-author of the immigration bill, has retreated from his pro-immigration stance.

Graham is exposed to potential criticism that he is merely John McCain lite. The 2008 failed Republican nominee serves in the Senate with Graham, calls him his "illegitimate son" and declares Graham the most experienced person for the White House.

Graham grew up poor. His parents died within 15 months of one another when he was in college, and he helped raise his younger sister Darline.

While he said it was crucial to reform entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare to make them viable for future generations, he departed from the Republican script by suggesting wealthier Americans pay more into the system.

"I've done better than I ever dreamed," Graham added. "If I and others like me have to take a little bit less, and pay a little more to help those who need it more, so be it."