AIKEN, S.C. -- Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., a living legend in South Carolina and the oldest member of Congress at 87, announced Monday he will be a candidate for a seventh six-year term.
'In all my years of public service, I have never felt a stronger obligation to continue my work for the future of our state and our nation,' said Thurmond, accompanied by his wife and key political supporters at news conferences around the state.
Thurmond, who looks older than his official campaign photograph but still appears hale and hearty for a man of his advanced years, spoke about the issues of education, environment and health care for the elderly in making his re-election bid official.
A heavy favorite for re-election -- no Democrat or Republican has stepped forward to challenge him yet -- Thurmond would be 94 at the end of another term, making him the oldest member of Congress ever. Sen. Theodore Green of Rhode Island was 93 when he retired in 1961, and Sen. Carl Hayden of Arizona was 91 when he stepped down in 1969.
As usual, Thurmond was asked Monday how long he can continue to serve, and he offered his typical response, saying his daily physical fitness regimen and youthful attitude leave him in better shape than some 50-year-olds.
'The matter of age is relative,' he said.
If the senator does face a Democratic challenger and the subject of advancing age crops up, Thurmond's campaign is prepared to counter with television advertisements showing Thurmond working out at a health club and running up and down the Capitol steps.
Thurmond's family offers living proof of his vigor. In 1968, at the age of 66 and eight years after the death of his first wife, Thurmond married 22-year-old Nancy Moore, a former Miss South Carolina who served as his secretary. They have four children, the last born when Thurmond was 73.
In one of his most-quoted responses to the frequent questions about his second marriage, Thurmond said, 'In old age, I would rather smell perfume than liniment.'
Thurmond said he's proud of what's been achieved during his 35 years in the Senate, particularly the strides made under the Reagan and Bush administrations.
'I have worked diligently to solve problems, to place the highest possible priority on constituent service, to make government more responsive to the needs of the people and to do everything in my power to keep America free, strong and prosperous,' said Thurmond, promising more of the same if South Carolinians return him to Congress.
Thurmond, who entered politics after careers in education and law, was elected governor of South Carolina in 1946 and two years later ran as the states' rights candidate for president in a protest against growing Democratic sentiment for the civil rights movement. As a Dixiecrat, he carried four Southern states and picked up 39 delegates, but Harry Truman was elected over Thomas Dewey.
In 1954, Thurmond won election to the Senate as a write-in candidate and has survived all challenges since. In 1964, after growing increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the Democratic Party, Thurmond became a Republican. It didn't hurt his popularity among the home folks.
Thurmond, who once filbustered for more than 24 hours against civil rights legislation, changed along with the rest of the South in regard to race relations.
By the time he ran for his fifth term in 1978, Thurmond had hired blacks for his staff, pushed appointments of black judges and courted the black vote. He has also promoted women for the federal judiciary and other federal posts.