COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Political observers say it was no surprise when Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham won the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Strom Thurmond.
Graham, a House prosecutor during President Clinton's impeachment, beat two third-party candidates on Tuesday as well as Democrat Alex Sanders, a former legislator, ex-judge and retired president of the College of Charleston.
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Graham had about 55 percent of the vote to Sanders' 44 percent.
"I don't think the Senate race was really in doubt," said Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen.
Graham, 47, received Thurmond's endorsement a year ago and was bolstered more recently by campaign ad appearances, fund-raisers and rallies featuring President Bush.
Bush called Graham about 10 p.m. Tuesday to offer congratulations, Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said.
The president campaigned for Graham in South Carolina three times in the past year, most recently visiting Columbia two weeks ago.
"The president's visit here, and in North Carolina, seems to have helped and paid off," said Clemson University political scientist Robert Smith. Republican Elizabeth Dole defeated Democrat Erskine Bowles in the Tarheel State to replace retiring Jesse Helms.
While Sanders, 64, said he would be an independent voice for South Carolina, Graham vowed to support Bush's agenda.
He renewed that pledge Tuesday, saying he would work with the president to stimulate the economy, lower taxes and win the war on terrorism.
"My generation of political leaders are going to be challenged," Graham said. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war. This nation is going to go through a lot of hard times before times get better.
"We're going to win this war on terrorism, and it's going to cost us a lot of money. We're going to go in debt for a while, but freedom has no price tag, and if we have to go in debt to win the war, we'll go in debt."
Graham, who has represented the 3rd Congressional District for eight years, ran a solid campaign, Smith said.
"He made his case that it's important to the country that the seat continue to be held by a Republican," Smith said.
The majority of voters agreed.
Judy H. Bedenbaugh, 60, a retired elementary school teacher from Prosperity, said Graham has represented South Carolina well in Congress. "I'd like to keep him in office right now with his background and experience. Let's just stay with the status quo right now."
Bedenbaugh also thinks Graham will be able to vote outside party lines.
"Lindsey Graham will be above partisanship," she said.
Columbia resident John Klosterman said he supported Graham because he has principles. During the Clinton impeachment, Graham "was at the top of the fight for justice," he said.
Political observers said Graham had many advantages in the race. In addition to Bush's support, he was able to raise more money.
"Graham just had too many things on his side: money, Bush and the normal voting patterns of South Carolina when it comes to federal elections," Thigpen said.
Both Thigpen and Smith agree that Sanders held his own throughout the campaign.
"I don't think Alex Sanders had any major flaws," Smith said. "He brought up the issues that had an impact on voters. People just felt it was more important for this Senate candidate to be on the president's side."