The 2002 United States Senate election in South Carolina was held on November 5, 2002. Long-time Incumbent Strom Thurmond decided to retire at the age of 100, becoming the first Centenarian to ever serve in Congress, and at that time was the longest serving Senator in U.S. history (a record later surpassed by West Virginia's Robert Byrd). Republican Lindsey Graham won the open seat and has been in office since then. This is the first open senate election in South Carolina in 40 years.
The election campaign between Graham and Sanders pitted ideology against personality. Graham spread his message to the voters that he had a consistent conservative voting record and that his votes in Congress closely matched that of outgoing Senator Strom Thurmond. Sanders claimed that he was best to represent South Carolina in the Senate because he held membership in both the NAACP, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the NRA, and because he said that his positions more closely matched the citizens of the state. He said that he was against the death penalty for religious reasons, supported abortion rights, and was for greater government involvement in education. Graham attacked Sanders for these positions consistently throughout the campaign, but Sanders hit back at Graham for wanting to privatize social security.
Graham scored an impressive victory in the general election and the margin of victory proved that Democrats had little chance of winning an election in the state for a federal position. He achieved his victory because he rolled up strong margins the Upstate and was able to also achieve a majority in the Lowcountry, an area which Sanders had been expected to do well since he hailed from Charleston. However, strong support in the Lowcountry for Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Sanford doomed Sanders chances of running up a margin in the coastal counties.