In what many thought would be one of the toughest campaigns in his 70-plus-year political career, U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond defeated a much younger, well-financed Democrat in Elliott Close Tuesday.
Mr. Thurmond won an eighth term and his victory was one of the first declared Tuesday night. With 56 percent of the precincts counted, Mr. Thurmond with 50 percent or 300,926 votes statewide, while Mr. Close had 47 percent or 283,282 votes statewide.
Libertarian Richard T. "Doc" Quillian, a night auditor for the Super 8 Motel in Myrtle Beach, had 7,027 votes statewide, good for 1 percent.
Natural Law Party candidate Annette Estes, a former television anchor in Greenville and Spartanburg, had 3,659 votes statewide, while Reform Party candidate Peter Ashy had 4,872 votes, both good for 1 percent.
Aiken and Edgefield counties were two of the stronger counties for the senior senator statewide. The 93-year-old Republican was born in Edgefield and Aiken is his adopted "hometown." In Aiken, Mr. Thurmond had received 67 percent of the votes to Mr. Close's 30 percent with 28 of 65 precincts counted. In Edgefield County Mr. Thurmond had 53 percent of the votes to Mr. Close's 47 percent, with nine of 12 precincts totaled.
Mr. Thurmond, the nation's oldest senator, seemed to have little trouble campaigning this year as he relied on his lengthy resume and personal connection with most voters in South Carolina through constituent service, political pundits said.
"In essence, he's a political legend," said Bill Moore, dean of political science at the College of Charleston. "Thurmond's been the dominant political figure really for the last half of this century. He's that type of figure in South Carolina politics."
Though well-financed and well-received among traditional Democrats, Mr. Close never seemed to get a handle on the person-to-person campaigning that has been a hallmark of Mr. Thurmond's lengthy career.
The senator seemed to outclass the Fort Mill, S.C., real estate developer with his murderous campaign schedule and glad-handing of ever potential voter he could find in department stores, company lunch rooms and at county festivals.
Mr. Close was not as comfortable with individual voters. He tried to reach the masses with a series of television commercials that attacked the senator's age and effectiveness late in the campaign after he pledged not to attack make the 93-year-old's seniority an issue.
One of the biggest challenges for Mr. Close throughout the campaign was Mr. Thurmond's reluctance to debate.
The senior senator brushed off any criticism by attacking the political newcomers qualifications and said he didn't want to give Mr. Close any "publicity."
Though he didn't take Mr. Close seriously in public, Mr. Thurmond knew he had a fight on his hands against the multimillionaire textile heir.
Even though they agreed to a $3 million campaign spending limit, Mr. Thurmond called the race "the fight of his life" in a fund-raising letter to his closest supporters and said Mr. Close planned to dump millions of dollars into the campaign in the final days.
In the final weeks, Mr. Thurmond still led Mr. Close handily in several telephones polls of registered voters, including a 16-point margin last week.
That created frustration within Mr. Close's camp that soon became internal turmoil as he had to replace his campaign manager and chief fund-raiser in the final month of the campaign.