COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After Tuesday, South Carolinians will have a new U.S. senator for the first time in 36 years.
U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Democrat Alex Sanders are the leading contenders for the seat being vacated by the retiring Strom Thurmond, who at 99 is the nation's oldest and longest-serving senator with 48 years in the chamber. Democratic Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, 80, finally will be the state's senior senator.
Scott Giarrocco of Newberry, who owns a new and used book store, said he had voted for Thurmond in the past but supported Sanders and other Democrats on Tuesday.
Giarrocco said he doesn't like the Republicans spending so many tax dollars on the war on terrorism or on preparations for a war on Iraq. He said there won't be any money left for retirees.
"Sanders is an educated, intelligent man willing to change his stance if new evidence comes in. I like that," Giarrocco said. He also said he didn't like Graham because he's "a vile mean-spirited little man."
Political observers, though, said Graham had the advantage heading into the election.
Graham tied himself closely to Thurmond and has garnered support from top national Republicans including President Bush.
Bush's visit to the state two weeks ago likely was very helpful to the Graham campaign, said Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon.
"George W. Bush is popular, especially in South Carolina, right now," Huffmon said. "The visits he's had relatively close to the election are only going to boost turnout, and they're going to boost pro-Graham sentiments."
Clement Walters, 76, and his wife, 74-year-old Betty, said they voted Republican straight down ticket Tuesday and that Bush's visits encouraged them to vote for Graham.
The Walterses said they do fine financially and aren't worried about Social Security, which became a political football in the South Carolina Senate race.
"Sometimes senior citizens can be selfish," Betty Walters said. "I think if someone wants to put some of their money in CDs (certificates of deposit) it's a good idea."
Graham also had the advantage in terms of money. The Republican raised more than $5.6 million during the campaign, while Sanders raised more than $3.4 million, according to recent campaign finance documents.
Graham, 47, also is recognized more easily by the public. The Republican was in the national spotlight as a House prosecutor during President Clinton's impeachment.
Sanders, meanwhile, had to overcome low name recognition. He dropped out of politics after becoming a chief judge for the state Appeals Court in 1983. The former legislator and College of Charleston president was not at the top of the list that the Democratic Party had of potential Senate candidates.
With the polls showing a large number of undecided voters leading up to Election Day, both Sanders and Graham reached out to those who might sway the result.
"Both candidates have been reaching into the well for turnout, and both have had strong get-out-the-vote campaigns," said Huffmon. "That's far more important for Sanders."
The forecast called for rain on Election Day, which typically also dampens turnout at the polls, Huffmon said.
Booper Prichard, poll manager at the Sullivans Island precinct, said turnout was heavy Tuesday morning and estimated there had been about 80 voters an hour.
About 1,500 people are registered in the precinct, and Prichard expected more than half to vote.
Many voters turned out Monday to cast their ballots early. Gregory Fielder of Laurens said he voted for Sanders because he's an educator and Sanders did a good job at the College of Charleston.
Floyd Nabors, also of Laurens, said he voted for Sanders as well. "I just don't like the other guy's attitude," he said.
Graham and Sanders tried to differentiate themselves throughout the campaign.
Sanders, 64, has said he will be an independent voice for South Carolina, not answering to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle or other national Democrats.
Graham, who has represented the 3rd Congressional District for eight years, said he would support Bush's agenda.
Libertarian Victor Kocher and Constitution Party candidate Ted Adams also were running for the seat.
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