CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

S.C.: Strom Thurmond Edges Out Textile Heir In Senate Win

CHARLOTTE, S.C. (AllPolitics, Nov. 5) -- Republican Strom Thurmond defeated textile heir Elliott Close to nab his seventh Senate term. Thurmond is headed toward breaking the record for the longest Senate service about six months into the 105th Congress.

At 93, Thurmond was already the oldest senator, and his age appeared to be his biggest stumbling block as he began his bid for re-election.

Close, while wealthy and well-financed, had a difficult time making the case that he was a better alternative to Thurmond, who is a political legend in the state. Charles W. Dunn, a political scientist at Clemson University, had predicted that Close couldn't win "unless Strom Thurmond stumbles, and it's gonna have to be a big stumble."

Pumping more than $650,000 of his own money into his campaign, Close initially was subtle about Thurmond's age. But in October, he launched a TV ad in which actors portraying voters said, "It's about time he retired," and "It's about time for him to come home."

Despite this, an independent poll in late September showed Thurmond with a comfortable lead over Close, 51 percent to 38 percent.

It was not just voter habit that made Thurmond the favorite. A founder of the modern South Carolina Republican Party, his conservatism fit his constituency. His chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee has been important to a state with a large defense industry.

Close, running in a state that has been unfriendly to Democrats in recent elections, proclaimed in his TV ad that he was a "new conservative" for the next century.

He focused on political reform issues in addition to the typical array of themes being echoed by many Democratic challengers this year, such as a pledge to protect Medicare. He backed term limits, a balanced-budget constitutional amendment and campaign-finance reform that would ban contributions from political action committees, set campaign spending limits and limit out-of-state campaign donations to 20 percent of all contributions.

He criticized Thurmond for refusing to debate him, and claimed the senator was purposely avoiding such public events. Thurmond's campaign said the senator did not want to give Close any free publicity.

While trying to distract Thurmond, Close had to deflect some negative publicity concerning his family's business, Springs Industries. Workers upset over the closings of three of the company's textile mills lashed out at Close this summer. Close said while he sympathizes with the workers' plight, he was only a stockholder in the company and had no control over Springs Industries' day-to-day operations.

Thurmond emphasized his experience and clout in Washington and dismissed Close as too inexperienced to serve in the Senate.

"He's a nice fellow who inherited some money," said Tony Denny, Thurmond's campaign manager. "He might be a legitimate candidate for town council."

Congressional Quarterly contributed to this report.

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