He may not be polling high in his bid for the White House but U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bachelorhood is getting him a lot of national media attention.
Graham has faced questions about his unmarried status in previous campaigns. But requests for details about his personal life have picked up since the Seneca Republican said he would seek the GOP nomination for president earlier this month.
In a phone interview from Utah on Friday, Graham, 59, said he almost married a flight attendant named Sylvia, who he met while living in Germany, in his late 20s.
Graham was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Germany at the Rhein-Main Air Base from 1984-88.
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Sylvia lived with a woman who Graham’s roommate married, the senator said. The two women were flight attendants for Lufthansa, he added.
But the year-long courtship did not last.
“Her mother was elderly, and I wasn't going to stay in Germany. I didn't think she wanted to come back to South Carolina,” Graham said of the relationship, the closest he said he ever has come to marrying.
When asked recently about being single, Graham — who told The State Friday that he has a book about his life coming out “soon” — has responded jokingly, prompting a flurry of headlines.
The media attention ramped up Tuesday when the Daily Mail Online asked Graham who would be his first lady if he wins the presidency.
Graham replied, “ ‘Well, I've got a sister – she could play that role if necessary,’ ” adding, “ ‘I've got a lot of friends. We'll have a rotating first lady.’ ”
Then, Huffington Post reported Thursday that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, had called Graham a “bro with no ho” on an open microphone, causing another flood of headlines about the South Carolinians.
Bachelors have rarely won the presidency. James Buchanan was the only president to remain a life-long bachelor.
Having said the first-lady comment was a joke, Graham told Politico Thursday that he once came close to marrying. At the time, Graham was taking care of his sister Darline Graham Nordone after the death of their parents, 15 months apart.
Graham’s personal struggle to care for his sister has been a central part of his campaign, using it to stress his commitment to family and to preserving safety-net programs that help people who fall on hard times. After their parents died, while Graham was at the University of South Carolina, his sister went to live with an aunt and uncle in Seneca. Graham came home from college on the weekends to see her.
Nordone, who lives in Lexington, has said Graham always has been a father figure to her. Graham later adopted Darline so she could receive his medical benefits.
On why he never married, Graham told Politico: “It’s something I really don’t know the answer to, other than I think it’s OK. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong about not being married. Having a marriage and a good family and children is a blessing. But I don’t think I’m a defective person by any means.”
He added, “I don’t think there’s anything in the Constitution that says single people need not apply for president. And if it bothers some people, then they won’t vote for me. I offer what I offer.”
The Washington Post blog The Fix pointed out Graham is not alone in being single – he is one or more than 100 million Americans, older than 18, who are unmarried. According to the U.S. Census, unmarried people account for 44 percent of all U.S. residents 18 or older.
“Perhaps having Graham as a candidate can crush some of the remaining stigma,” The Fix wrote.
Richard Quinn, Graham’s long-time friend and political consultant, said the media attention only can help Graham. His campaign is trying to persuade a national audience to listen to him on national security and foreign policy issues, even as he has been polling at the bottom of the crowded field of GOP candidates in early-voting states Iowa and New Hampshire.
Quinn also noted opponents have tried and failed to use Graham’s bachelor status against the Upstate Republican before. Graham has never lost a political contest since running for the S.C. House in 1992.
“People just aren't so prejudiced that they're going to not consider a candidate because of him being a bachelor,” Quinn said.
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658