Sunday, March 18, 2007

Analysis: Will age and health concerns affect Sen. McCain's race for the White House?

WASHINGTON - John McCain (news, bio, voting record), 70 and scarred, cannot deny his age. So he jokes about it. "I'm older than dirt, more scars than Frankenstein, but I learned a few things along the way," quips the Republican presidential candidate, who tries to play down the ravages of time for the wisdom acquired over seven decades.

His body is battered from torture in Vietnam. The scar along his left cheek is a reminder of a different battle, with skin cancer. Yet, McCain packs his work days so tight that aides grouse. And the man who could be the oldest first-term president hiked the Grand Canyon from "rim to rim" last summer.

Despite McCain's high-energy lifestyle, getting older begets questions about health. The four-term Arizona senator no doubt will have to prove to voters that he is physically and mentally up to the demanding job of president. For now, the issues are only background murmurs in the 2008 race for the GOP nomination. Neither Rudy Giuliani, the 62-year-old former New York City mayor who also is a cancer survivor, nor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a diet-and-exercise fanatic who just turned 60, has mentioned them publicly. Still, an aging candidate troubles some voters.

Two recent surveys found that people are less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is older than 72 than they would a candidate who has been divorced twice and a candidate who is Mormon. Giuliani is on his third marriage; Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Michigan, Jerry Roe, a Republican who is a former state GOP executive director, backed McCain in 2000 but supports Romney this time. "McCain's too old," said Roe, whose son is a deputy campaign manager for Romney. "He looks tired. He looks like he's dragging," added Chip Felkel, a GOP strategist in South Carolina who says he is not aligned with a candidate.

McCain is determined to counter the notion that his age and health are hurdles, and he does not hide his distaste for the topic when questioned. "I work seven days a week, 16-plus hours a day. I'm fine. I'm in great health," McCain tells anyone who asks. To drive home the point, he talks about his Grand Canyon hike and notes that his spunky 95-year-old mother still drives and recently traveled through Europe. He does not mention that his father died in 1981 of heart failure at 70.

Campaigning, McCain seeks to counter skeptics who question his vigor. On the first day of a two-day Iowa bus tour, he talked nonstop for hours to reporters traveling with him. He met with Iowa legislators. He hosted two question-and-answer sessions with hundreds of Iowans. He held several news conferences. "He wears me out. I can't keep up with him," said his wife, Cindy, 52. Still, despite McCain's best efforts, he cannot seem to escape the age questions.
"You had a birthday," late-night comedian David Letterman mentioned last month. "Tragically," McCain said dryly.

Physically, McCain's body has withstood more trauma than those of most people his age. As a Navy pilot in Vietnam, McCain broke both arms and severely injured his right knee when his fighter jet went down in Hanoi in 1967. When his captors tended to his injuries, they did so intermittently and never properly set his broken bones. They also exacerbated McCain's wounds when they tortured him during his 5 1/2 years in prison. The results still show today. His hurried gait masks a slight limp. His oft-clenched fists hide the limited use of his arms. Arthritis has set in; he cannot raise either arm above his head. More recently, McCain had three bouts of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. His aides say he has been cancer-free for at least five years. Still, because of his previous bouts, he is at a higher risk for a reoccurrence, as are all cancer survivors. Hundreds of health records made available during McCain's first presidential run in 2000 consistently gave him a clean bill of mental health despite long periods in solitary confinement in Vietnam. He continues to be inquisitive and quick-witted judging by his exchanges on Capitol Hill with colleagues. "He's as alert as he was 18 years ago when I went to work for him. He's as healthy as a horse," said Mark Salter, a longtime aide.

The campaign plans to release his updated health records to prove it. Aides are confident that voters will see it for themselves as the senator steps up his campaigning. Regardless of his current fitness, nobody knows how McCain would fare during his years in the Oval Office given his age and medical history. If he were nominated, his age would make his selection of a running mate even more critical. Physicians unaffiliated with him say as people get into their 70s they face the increased risk of mental impairment, ranging from mild memory loss that doesn't affect judgment to full-blown dementia that inhibits a person's ability to function in daily life. They also have a higher chance of chronic physical ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. "If there is not clear evidence of serious progressive medical disabilities or cognitive impairment, I think age should not at all disqualify someone from being a candidate," said Dr. Eric De Jonge, chief of geriatrics at Washington Hospital Center.

Now 83, Bob Dole recently said McCain will face "constant questions about his fitness and ability to serve." The former Senate majority leader speaks from experience. Dole had suffered war wounds and was a cancer survivor when, at 73, he ran for the White House as the 1996 Republican presidential nominee challenging the then 50-year-old President Clinton. A dozen years earlier, Ronald Reagan — who was 69 when he was first elected and 73 during his re-election race — neutralized the question of whether he may be too old for the job. In a debate with the 56-year-old Democrat Walter Mondale, a former vice president and senator, Reagan deftly quipped: "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease just six years after leaving office.

For McCain, Republican strategists say, a release of health records as well as his appearance while campaigning will be the keys to deflecting suggestions that he may not be fit to serve. "McCain has as much energy as he did six years ago and possibly more," said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant who ran Dole's campaign. But, he said, "The campaign will have to pace him properly to make sure he's not run down, doing too many events and looking tired because the camera doesn't lie."


BrandonK said...

Sen. McCain's age and health will absolutely effect his ability to run for the Presidency. I think the main issue here is going to be his age. If he is elected, he will be right around 73 years old, and 77 after his first term. I'm pretty sure that most people around this age begin to suffer from some "mental problems." I'm pretty sure that even though he's fine now, in a few years his judgement, cognative reflexes and decision making abilites will be hindered a bit. On the health side, I don't think you would have to woory so much. But if something did happen, it would take longer for McCain to recover because of his age. McCain is going to have to constantly answer questions about his health during his campaign.

Megan B said...

Personally, I think this question deserves a two-pronged response to the part of the question that refer to how the race is actually carried out by Sen. McCain and his staff / advisors, in other words the logistics of a campaign, and the part which refers to the outcome of the race.

As for the logistics the campaign will definitely be affected because the McCain camp will want to show that the concerns are not warranted, and completely unnecessary. Sen. McCain will have to work more diligently than others to always have the persona health, fitness, mentally and physically, and the general ideal of well-being. This may be a tall task for a 72 year old, but the Senator has kept a strenuous schedule, doing well with it, for a very long time. This rigor of his daily life will help prove to many Americans that to Sen. McCain age is just another number. As for what my classmate Brandon K. has said about the elderly starting to suffer from “mental problems,” this view, which is a commonly held belief, shows that our country should become more aware of the true process and progress of forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, to find that it does not just suddenly appear, instead these afflictions slowly take the mind, and kill some elderly.

Many American, especially in the younger generations, appear to be ignorant to the problems our elder citizens face, have faced and overcome. Unfortunately, I feel that the many difficulties that Sen. McCain has already has survived with great fortitude, may be overlooked, and passed over with the focus then traveling to the number, that the Senator himself appears to commonly ignore. The public will most likely point to him being stuck in the past on the issues of war, saying that he is trying to stay in keeping with another “great American” failure, he was entangled in, Vietnam.

P.S. just an additional comment, I did the rest of my homework about the gavel in the Senate, and it really is stored in a box that does smell of “rich mahogany,” because it is mahogany; I am still working on how it would have any ties to several leather bound books.

tonileep said...

I believe that Senator McCain's race for the White House will be affected by his age and health. I don't believe many people will want a president who will be 77 by the end of his first term in office. That is a huge risk and I don't know If the American people will take it. It is a risk because as Brandon K. states, people around that age do begin to suffer from "mental problems" and I don't think they want a president will may suffer for that. He may be healthy now but who knows what his condition will be in a few years. He is a great Senator but I don't think the American people will look at what he has done, but rather look at his age.

BrandonSh said...

I actually don't think it will significantly affect his campaign. There is no doubt that there are some people that will shy away from him because of his age, but those are probably not going to be a majority of voters. It sounds like his health is pretty good right now because I don't know if I could walk the entire Grand Canyon and I'm not even 16. The other Republican candidates may bring this issue up but if you take at look at them, they aren't very young either.

It's possible that the Democrats could use this and kind of make a joke out of the frontrunners of the Republican party. Or at least the media will, but I can't see Republicans who are dedicated to Senator McCain's campaign changing their minds simply because they realize that he's getting old.

KerryW said...

I agree wit Brandon in saying that I also don't think that his age and health will affect his ability to run for the most part. Sure, some people might use his health concerns against him, but if, like Brandon said, he's able to hike the Grand Canyon at his age, he should be able to make it through the race. Others might take the point of view as he's really been through so much and gotton through it. What's to say he won't be able to save this country like he has been saved.

MikeM said...

I agree with Brandon. I don't think that Senator McCain's age will affect his run for the presidency. For a man in his seventies he looks very healthy and is showing no signs of slowing down physically or mentally. Ronald Reagan served as president until he was nearly 78 and he did a good job running the country.

justinbel said...

Yes i think McCain's age will be a factor in the '08 election.Like others said he will be 77 after his first term if he ends up winning. I think people will look at that and it could possibly change their vote because of it.

Jahir D said...

Age will definately be a factor in McCain's bid for the white House in '08. Though 73 might not seen extremely old, 77 does. Assuming he gets elected President in '08, I beleive he would have a great deal of trouble getting re-elected in 2012 (if he even decides to run again). This is highly skeptical of course, but I am sure that big-name politicians are keeping this in mind when deciding which Republican candidate they want to support. No one wants to support a 1-term candidate when they could just as easily support someone with higher prospects of holding 2 terms in office. The longer their 'friend' is in office, the longer they can exert their influence over him.

Dain said...

Age will definently be a factor in McCain's campaign. This is probably his last chance to get elected because while their are concerns about 73, 77 sounds much older. He may counter concerns about his age via heavy activity, but he still looks old on camera. I don't think that heavy activity and health records alone will stop the age/health question from coming up.

Megan B said...

No, question again! Y’all know I’m impatient, so here’s my question for the week: Opinion: Review the list of the “Dirty Dozen” I found, and listed below, then comment on any members of the list that may surprise you or you disagree with.

From the Evergreen Politics website (out of Washington State) the List reads:

Senator Hillary Clinton (NY - D) – Armed services committee

Senator Mike DeWine (OH - R) – Senate Judiciary committee

Rep. David Dreier (CA – R) – House Rules committee

Rep. Dennis Hastert (IL – R) – Former Speaker of the House

Senator Orrin Hatch (UT – R) – Senate Judiciary committee

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (MI – R) – Committee on Intelligence

Senator Jon Kyl (AZ – R) – Senate Judiciary Committee

Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT – D) –Homeland Security committee

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD – D) –Gov. Reform committee

Senator Rick Santorum (PA – R) – senate finance committee

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI – R) House Judiciary committee

Rep. Mark Souder (IN – R) – Gov. Reform committee

I found it very interesting that a prominent democrat, Hillary Clinton, who is so high in the polls could be viewed as anti-environment and still be so seemingly well liked among those likely to vote in primaries, who generally know the issues well. It is also interesting that the Clinton’s and the Gore’s seemed to be close friends, how can that be, isn’t it “inconvenient,” that Hillary is seen as anti-environment and former vice-President Gore appears to be pro-environment. If Hillary and Gore were to run together in ’08 how could they mesh those “inconveniently” conflicting perceptions of their view points?

I also was surprised by the number of people, who are not hugely influencial, that made this list. Some of them such as Mark Souder and Dutch Ruppersberger, are not out in the headlines, ever.

I am also disappointed our very own Waukesha county far right conservative representative, Rep. Sensenbrenner made this list of “environment haters.”

tonileep said...

I agree with Megan that it is very intersting that Hilary Clinton is viewed as anti-evironment when she is doing well in the polls. The environment is a big issue today and to be viewed as anti-environment and still be doing well is intersting. Also, I'm suprised by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger and Rep. Mark Souder who are unknowns made the list. You would think if they were antil-environment they would be making more headlines and being more vocal.

KimK said...

First of all I would like to help some of you with your spelling as I constantly see this word spelled incorrectly -- the word is "definitely." As for the question, I believe that age and health concerns will affect his race. However, in which way? Older age could be a good thing when considering experience and the fact that a lot of old people vote (and may vote for someone their own age). The other side, of course, is his declining health that is likely to come with age. This may not seem like a good thing...that is, unless you like the VP! We haven't had a president die in office in a while! On the other hand, Jahir makes a good point that he wouldn't be likely to be in a condition to run for a second term, which could influence some voters as well.

KimK said...

First of all I would like to help some of you with your spelling as I constantly see this word spelled incorrectly -- the word is "definitely." As for the question, I believe that age and health concerns will affect his race. However, in which way? Older age could be a good thing when considering experience and the fact that a lot of old people vote (and may vote for someone their own age). The other side, of course, is his declining health that is likely to come with age. This may not seem like a good thing...that is, unless you like the VP! We haven't had a president die in office in a while! On the other hand, Jahir makes a good point that he wouldn't be likely to be in a condition to run for a second term, which could influence some voters as well.

Tom B. said...

I feel that his age will not be a factor in the election beacuse i feel he doesnt stand a chance in winning a nomination anyway