He's headed to Iowa. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt, File)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is seriously exploring a White House run in 2016, will make his first trip of the year to the presidential proving ground of Iowa next week.

Graham, a Republican from South Carolina known for his outspoken and hawkish leadership in foreign affairs, is planning two days of meetings with Republican activists and other influential Iowans as he considers jumping into the wide-open presidential race.

Graham will visit Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential caucuses, next Thursday and Friday, spokesman Kevin Bishop said. Bishop would not detail Graham's itinerary because he said the trip remains in the planning stages.

Next week's visit will be Graham's first to Iowa as a prospective candidate. Last fall, Graham, like many other 2016 White House hopefuls, campaigned in Iowa for Joni Ernst in her successful Senate campaign.

Last month, Graham launched a presidential exploratory committee, called "Security through Strength," which he said would allow him to raise money and assess whether he sees a viable pathway to the nomination.

Although Graham is not considered a top-tier contender, he has the potential to stand out in a crowded field because of his foreign policy expertise and positioning. Throughout President Obama's six years in office, Graham has developed a national following as one of the president's harshest critics on foreign affairs.

Graham has an important booster in Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a close friend and the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee. McCain has said he would support Graham if he runs and help steer some of his political supporters and donors to his friend's campaign.

On Wednesday night in Washington, McCain touted Graham during a panel discussion celebrating the 100th anniversary of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. McCain noted that polls show terrorism is the top issue for Republican voters in New Hampshire -- and that that's a reason why Graham has a shot at the nomination.