1984 United States Senate election in South Carolina

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United States Senate election in South Carolina, 1984

← 1978 November 6, 1984 1990 →
  Strom Thurmond.jpg No image.svg
Nominee Strom Thurmond Melvin Purvis
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 644,814 306,982
Percentage 66.8% 31.8%

South Carolina Senate Election Results by County, 1984.svg
Results by county

Thurmond:      40-49%      50-59%      60-69%
     70-79%      80-89%

Purvis:      40-49%

U.S. Senator before election

Strom Thurmond

Elected U.S. Senator

Strom Thurmond

The 1984 South Carolina United States Senate election was held on November 6, 1984 to select the U.S. Senator from the state of South Carolina. Popular incumbent Republican Senator Strom Thurmond cruised to re-election against Democratic challenger Melvin Purvis.

Democratic Primary[edit]

The South Carolina Democratic Party held their primary on June 12, 1984. Melvin Purvis, a white minister and the son of famous FBI agent Melvin Purvis, won a close race against black photographer Cecil J. Williams. The closeness of the race and the fact that the black candidate did not win propelled Jesse Jackson to request a Justice Department investigation into the primary and he also considered an independent bid for the seat. Governor Richard Riley and 3rd district Representative Butler Derrick flirted with running, but backed down when Thurmond received endorsements from prominent Democrats in South Carolina.

Democratic Primary
Candidate Votes %
Melvin Purvis 149,730 50.2%
Cecil J. Williams 148,586 49.8%

Republican Primary[edit]

The South Carolina Republican Party held their primary on June 12, 1984. Senator Strom Thurmond easily defeated Bob Cunningham to advance to the general election.

Republican Primary
Candidate Votes %
Strom Thurmond 44,662 94.3%
Bob Cunningham 2,693 5.7%

General election campaign[edit]

Thurmond received endorsements from former Democratic governor Robert Evander McNair, Charleston mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., and an assortment of black mayors in the state. He did not face a serious challenge and spent almost $1.5 million on the race whereas Purvis spent less than $10,000. An ironic footnote to the election is the fact that Purvis used Thurmond's age as an issue in the campaign, he claimed Thurmond was too old, yet Purvis died less than two years after the election of a heart attack at age 46.

Election results[edit]

South Carolina U.S. Senate Election, 1984
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Strom Thurmond 644,814 66.8% +11.2%
Democratic Melvin Purvis 306,982 31.8% -12.6%
Libertarian Stephen Davis 13,323 1.4% +1.4%
No party Write-Ins 335 0.0% 0.0%
Majority 337,832 35.0% +23.8%
Turnout 965,454 68.7% +11.0%
Republican hold

See also[edit]


  • State Election Commission (1985). Report of the South Carolina State Election Commission 1984-1985. Columbia, SC: State Election Commission. p. 62.
  • Bass, Jack; Marilyn W. Thompson (1998). Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond. Longstreet. p. 302.