Age-Old Issue Gets Diminished in Election 2016

By Jennifer Levitz – March 4, 2016

Wall Street Journal

WORCESTER, Mass.—Presidential campaigning is a whirlwind.

After Hillary Clinton hopped around Massachusetts on Monday for events, her husband and most famous surrogate, Bill Clinton, held a rousing get-out-the-vote rally—at 10:30 p.m.

Earlier in the day, meanwhile, Bernie Sanders roared about starting a political revolution, while addressing thousands in a sweaty high-school gymnasium outside Boston. Donald Trump held a raucous rally in Virginia.

While everyone is buzzing about the fierce contest underway, some observers are noting with wonderment the topic that isn’t top of mind: the unusually high number of “extreme grown-ups” enduring the breakneck schedule of presidential campaigning.

“It is interesting I think that nobody is really talking about how, these folks are old,” marveled former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, now 82 years old, in an interview.

Ronald Reagan was the oldest president at inauguration, nearing 70 when he took office in 1981. Both Mr. Trump, now 69, and Mr. Sanders, 74, would bust that record, while Mrs. Clinton, who would be 69, would bump up against it. The three candidates, all grandparents, would well surpass the average age of roughly 54 years old for an incoming president.

“It really is pretty incredible to have so many older candidates,” said Michael Purdy, a historian who writes the blog “I find it surprising we haven’t heard a lot of discussion about the age of these candidates.”

Worrying that a presidential candidate was “too old” used to be typical, said James Firman, chief executive of the National Council on Aging, a large nonprofit service and advocacy group.

Mr. Reagan, for instance, famously deflected a question about his age during his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale by quipping, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

“What I’ve noticed is how it’s not an issue” this year, said Mr. Firman. “To me, that’s kind of exciting.”

Researchers on aging say a few factors are at play. For one thing, all three of the older candidates often present an image of vigor as they keep up schedules that exhaust even the youngest reporters traveling with them.

To be sure, the seasoned front-runners are longtime high achievers long accustomed to jam-packed schedules, and are generally privileged and have staffs that cater to them. And older adults tend to know their own limits well and are rather adept at strategically using their energy and preserving their resources, said Lenard Kaye, the director of the University of Maine Center on Aging.

Mr. Sanders’s campaign said the Vermont senator’s stamina goes back to his track-team days at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, where he ran the mile and cross country.

Mr. Trump, a billionaire businessman, “is an extremely high energy individual,” his spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “He requires little sleep, has great genes and is passionate about sharing his vision to Make America Great Again.”

Mrs. Clinton, a former secretary of state, practices yoga.

Yet the candidates also appear to be evidence of what scientists have increasingly come to understand, that chronological age isn’t a reliable predictor of vitality, said Dr. Ursula Staudinger, director of the aging center at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Data and studies are generally showing that our biological age is roughly 10 years less than our chronological age, she said.

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