COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the elder statesman of Congress, is scheduled to announce his bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate Monday while Democrats scratch their heads over ways to retire him.
The 87-year-old lawmaker, pronouncing himself as fit as a man in his 50s, will crisscross the state with announcements of his candidacy at news conferences in major cities.
Thurmond, first elected as a Democrat in 1954 on an unprecedented write-in ballot challenging the party nominee, has been installed as the early favorite to win another six-year term.
The senator is not expected to have any internal GOP opposition, and South Carolina Democrats are having trouble fielding a candidate to take on the venerable politicianwhose popularity cuts across party lines.
Indeed, one of the co-chairmen of Thurmond's re-election campaign is state Senator John Drummond, a Democrat from Greenwood County.
Drummond and state Sen. John Courson, a Republican from Columbia, will accompany Thurmond on his campaign announcement swing.
'Strom Thurmond is a remarkable human being,' conceded Phil Lader, 43, a potential Democratic rival who ran unsuccessfully for governor four years ago.
State Democrats have been quietly feeling out voters to determine if Thurmond's age might be a chink in his political armor.
Polls commissioned by the Democrats showed more than half of the 600-odd voters taking part did not know Thurmond's age, with most guessing him to be in his 70s, The State newspaper reported Sunday.
Judy Miller, a state Democratic consultant, told The State that she isn't surprised by the findings.
'Intellecutally people may prefer a younger version of Strom Thurmond,' she said. 'But really, nobody is saying he's too old to be senator.'
Anticipating an attack on his age, Thurmond has prepared a series of television spots depicting himself as an energetic man working out in a health club and running up and down the Capitol steps in Washington.
Thurmond, who jogs and works out regularly, likes to stress his physical fitness. 'Is there any candidate out there in better shape than I?' he questions.
'Feel those muscles,' he likes to say to erase any doubt about his fitness.