AIKEN - A day after winning an eighth term, questions abound about how long Strom Thurmond will be a member of the Senate.
In some Republican circles, it is speculated that the 93-year-old, who has served in the Senate since 1954, might step down from office in May 1997 after he sets the record as the nation's longest-serving senator. Carl Hayden, former senator from Arizona, holds the record at 42 years in the Senate.
In February, Mr. Thurmond set the record as the nation's oldest senator, surpassing Theodore Green of Rhode Island.
Some say a Thurmond resignation would allow former Gov. Carroll Campbell, a strong supporter of the senator, to replace him.
However, Mr. Thurmond's closest friends and advisers said Wednesday that they don't think that's true.
"I don't believe there's anything to the talk that Sen. Thurmond will go up (to Washington) and step aside after he sets the record," former Thurmond chief of staff Harry Dent, acknowledging he has heard the rumors, said Wednesday. "Strom Thurmond has found heaven and it's a place called the United States Senate. He'll spend eternity there."
If Mr. Thurmond were to step down, the line to replace him would be very long. Possible replacements include Mr. Campbell, Gov. David Beasley, Bob Inglis and Secretary of State Jim Miles, prominent Republicans said privately.
But, the senator dismissed any assertions earlier this week that he's not up to the challenge.
"(The Democrats) say I'm old and infirm. That I'm not able to get around," Mr. Thurmond said Tuesday. "That's wrong. I'm in good shape."
Then, he danced a little jig outside the Aiken Municipal Building before going inside to vote a straight Republican ticket with his children Julie, Paul and Strom Jr.
However, Tuesday's race against Fort Mill, S.C., real estate developer Elliott Close, a Democrat, was one of the senator's closest in recent years. Mr. Thurmond has not had an opponent come within 10 percentage points of him since he was challenged by Charleston businessman Charles "Pug" Ravenel in 1978.
With 1,917 of 1,974 precincts reporting, Mr. Thurmond won with 53 percent, while Mr. Close had 44 percent. Three other candidates combined for three percent of the vote.
However, Republican leaders doubt the race was any tighter this year because of Mr. Thurmond's age. It all had to do with money, they said.
"The state Democratic Party put all their eggs in one basket on this race. They focused all their efforts on beating Sen. Thurmond," GOP state executive director Trey Walker said. "They spent millions of dollars on this race and they couldn't do it. They put tens of thousands of dollars of street money out and they couldn't do it. They put out a series of television ads that were scurrilous and negative and they couldn't do it."