WASHINGTON — Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, a veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, he announced Monday.

"I'm suspending my campaign but never my commitment to achieving security through strength for the American people," Graham, R-S.C., said in a video message Monday morning.

Graham faced a crowded GOP field where his numbers never rose above the single digits in national polls, according data compiled by RealClearPolitics. In his home state, a recent Winthrop poll showed support from only 2 percent of GOP voters.

In recent weeks, Graham offered a plan to send 10,000 US ground troops to combat the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and an authorization for the president to use military force in the fight that had no time or geographic limits. In his announcement, Graham claimed credit for moving fellow GOP candidates to more hawkish positions over the last four months.

Graham had lobbed several attacks at Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who led Graham in the polls. As recently as Dec. 16, Graham rejected Cruz's call for "carpet bombing" the Islamic State group and called Cruz an "isolationist."

"I have seen Americans partner with people in the region and that's the way forward. And this idea of killing every man, woman and child in the Middle East does not make us safer," Graham said.

National security has emerged to become as a dominant theme in the presidential race following Islamic State group-inspired attacks in San Bernadino, California, and Paris.

Graham, 60, retired from the Air Force in May with 33 years of service.

Longtime political ally Sen. John McCain, the SASC chairman, said in a statement Monday that with Graham's departure, the GOP lost its "most qualified, thoughtful, fearless and honest presidential candidate," who had "the most national security experience."

Of Graham, McCain lamented that "a bifurcated debate structure kept his voice and views from the wider public."

"Lindsey's message of serious statesmanship and problem-solving in public affairs, his forthright opposition to policies and attitudes that would endanger our country and reflect poorly on our party, and his genuine decency and humility won him many new admirers," McCain said.

Email: jgould@defensenews.com

Twitter: @reporterjoe

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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