Graham spoke at a fundraiser for Joni Ernst in Iowa Saturday.

Graham spoke at a fundraiser for Joni Ernst in Iowa Saturday. Charlie Neibergall/AP

Lindsey Graham: Caitlyn Jenner Is 'Welcome in My Party’

The senator from South Carolina distinguished himself from his fellow GOP presidential contenders in a CNN interview Sunday.

Over the weekend, many of the Republican presidential contenders gathered in Iowa for Sen. Joni Ernst's inaugural Roast and Ride. The event—a play on retired Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry—attracted as many Republican presidential hopefuls as Harkin's did for Democrats, if not more.

Sen. Lindsey Graham—who formally announced his presidential campaign June 1—used the event to introduce himself to Iowa Republicans, and show that he is more than just a war-hungry hawk.

In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash, Graham reasserted his support for U.S. ground troops to combat ISIS, while simultaneously trying to convey a more compassionate side to his conservatism.

Bash asked about Graham's recent message to voters who are worn out by war: "Don't vote for me."

"You are basically promising that troops are going to go into that region," Bash said on Sunday.

"Absolutely. I promise you that," Graham said. "I don't know how you defend the nation without some of our forces going back to Iraq to help the Iraqi army. This is our war, too. I'm not going to outsource our national security to a bunch of armies that don't know how to fight. How do you deal with Syria without forming an army in the region, and how do they win without us?"

The senator from South Carolina also warned of a "cyber Pearl Harbor," in which hackers could try to take down American financial systems, and called Russia a "totalitarian dictatorship." But when asked about domestic issues—specifically, on the environment and transgender rights—Graham took a decidedly more moderate tack.

"Here is a question you need to ask everybody running as a Republican: What is the environmental policy of the Republican Party?" Graham said. "When I ask that question, I get a blank stare. We don't have an environmental policy. We have an energy policy. If I'm president of the United States, we're going to address climate change and CO2 emissions in a business-friendly way."

When asked if he believes in man-made climate change, Graham did not hesitate—distinguishing himself from his more skeptical GOP rivals.

"Yes I do. Absolutely," he said. "When 90 percent of the doctors tell you you've got a problem, do you listen to the one?"

Bash then asked Graham about Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic athlete who recently revealed that she is transgender. Bash referred to comments made by Iowa talk show host Steve Deace, who said that Republican candidates who don't speak out against Jenner "might as well just forfeit the 2016 election now."

"If Caitlyn Jenner wants to be safe and have a prosperous economy, vote for me," Graham responded. "I'm into addition. I haven't walked in her shoes. I don't have all the answers to the mysteries of life. I can only imagine the torment that Bruce Jenner went through. I hope he has—I hope she has found peace. I'm a pro-life, traditional kind of guy. But I'm running to be president of the United States. If Caitlyn Jenner wants to be a Republican, she is welcome in my party."

Graham added that he is anti-abortion and believes in traditional marriage "without animosity," but he'd really rather talk about foreign policy.

"Here is what I would say to the talk show hosts: In the eyes of radical Islam, they hate you as much as they hate Caitlyn Jenner," Graham said. "They hate us all because we won't agree to their view of religion, so America, we are all in this together."