Style: Played the self-effacing hometown boy, keeping up his colloquial style even when talking about fearsome international threats. Quite low-energy for an announcement speech, although the typical Southern crowd whooped, cheered, and applauded throughout, allowing Graham to piggyback on their liveliness. Kept unscripted asides to a minimum (for him).
Substance: Heavy rhetorical emphasis on signature issues such as fighting terror, building alliances around the world, and enacting entitlement reform, but not much specifics there or anywhere else.
Best moment: Jazzed the audience by declaring he has more foreign policy experience than everyone else in the race, including Hillary Clinton.
Worst moment: Lapsed into reading his text for several minutes in the middle of his remarks, further sapping momentum.
Overall: The national security candidate chose to make national security the center of his announcement by starting with it, seeding it throughout, and ending with it. While he talked about working with Democrats, he didn’t emphasize his past efforts on immigration reform and climate change, which have put him out of step with the party base. Instead, he focused on his long-time fidelity to the three-legged Reagan stool of national security, social issues, and the economy. The whole event felt more like a personal moment for Graham than the launching of a national movement, and he did not summon the determined air of someone who thinks he can actually win. Still, it was a well-written speech, and he can move on to life as an official candidate, where fundraising and poll challenges await.
Note: The overall grade is not an average of the style and substance grades, but takes into account other aspects of the announcement, such as staging and crowd reaction. In addition, a candidate’s overall grade reflects the degree to which the candidate’s standing in the race is improved by the event and performance.