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Thurmond Keeps On Rolling At 94

By Bruce Morton/CNN

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WASHINGTON (Dec. 5) -- South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond reviewed troops at Ft. Bragg to celebrate his birthday. He is 94 today.

Thurmond was born in 1902, before freeways, or radio, or penicillin, or malls. He graduated from Clemson University in 1923. He has been an elected official since the 1920s. As World War II officer, Thurmond fought in the Normandy invasion.

He grew up in a strictly segregated South and in 1948 walked out of the Democratic convention to run as a states' rights, segregationist candidate for president. He carried four states and 39 electoral votes. In 1954, he was elected to the Senate as a Democrat, but switched parties to back Barry Goldwater in 1964.

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He was changing and his state changed around him. It's less agricultural and there are fewer textile mills. The state's new BMW plant is just part of the $7 billion in foreign investments in the last nine years.

Former GOP Gov. Carroll Campbell says of South Carolina, "Now we're an extremely modern, high-tech state, instead of one that was in a low-tech, agricultural climate."

And Thurmond has rolled with the tide, supporting the Voting Rights Act and hiring black staffers. "South Carolina has changed and evolved," Campbell said. "Sen. Thurmond has broadened his views, and he has evolved right along with them and stayed in touch with the entire state. He has understood extremely well that times change, that people have to change with the times."

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So it was no surprise, when he ran for re-election last month, to find local Democratic officials, like the Rev. Fred Armfield, endorsing him. At a rally Armfield said of the candidate, "Give him joy, give him strength, give him courage, and let him go one more time."

Thurmond has been in the Senate 42 years now. He doesn't look like, or vote like, the man he used to be. But he rolls on, the Ol' Man River of the Senate, its president pro tem, third in line for the presidency, one of the political wonders of the world.

Has he lost a step at 94? Just ask him. "I'm in complete possession of my faculties, physically and mentally," Thurmond said.

And he knows what politicians do. Thurmond told a crowd, "I have helped you. I'll keep on helpin' ya. And God bless you, the greatest people on the face of this earth."

He just keeps rolling along.


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