While the field of candidates for the next presidential election is still taking shape, it is likely to include the oldest person ever to seek the office.
President Trump, already the oldest first-term president in U.S. history, has begun campaigning for re-election and will be 74 by election day 2020. Though undecided about a run, former Vice President Joe Biden, who tops most early Democratic polls, will be just shy of 78, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be 79.
They may be old, but they want voters to know they’re still in fighting trim. “If I were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him,” Biden said of Trump, in answer to a question about the president’s crude comments about women.
That prompted Trump to assure the nation that he would get the better of the hypothetical fist fight.
But will young voters, mobilized by the movement that has sprung up in response to the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., turn out for candidates well into their 70s?
“I personally intend to support somebody who is young,” Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate told Yahoo News. “My preference is someone under 50. I think it’s time we turned the page on my generation’s culture wars.”
Dean, who is 69 now but was 55 when he ran for president, believes Democrats should aim to motivate young voters by nominating a candidate with less gray hair and more youthful energy.
“I think the best way to activate them is to get somebody who they can relate to, and that’s someone who is young, the younger the better,” Dean said.
Commentators worry that Democrats might squander their opportunity to draw a contrast with an aging Republican president.
“Democrats could choose a challenger so old that the prospect of infirmity or mortality — or worse yet, actual infirmity or mortality during the general-election campaign — could give Trump just the kind of advantage he needs,” columnist Ed Kilgore wrote for New York magazine’s “
For others, however, that kind of calculus smacks of discrimination.
“Ageism is the last ‘ism’ that seems to be acceptable to people, and I never felt that it was whether somebody was too young or too old,” Jane Sanders, the Vermont senator’s wife told the
The focus on Sanders’s age overlooks the extent to which he resonated with young voters in the 2016 campaign, routinely trouncing Hillary Clinton in primaries among millennial voters, according
“The difference was that he got [young voters] because he was outspoken and was speaking truth to power, and that’s sort of the reason I got them,” Dean said. “But I think I would like somebody who has a more rounded approach to issues. The way that young people think is not the way that people my age think, and that’s really the crux of all of this.”
But just fielding a younger candidate may not be a surefire way to energize voters, argues Princeton University professor of history and public affairs Julian Zelizer.
“I think there’s still probably a bias in the electorate that younger is new, younger is fresh, younger is different, but middle age still seems to be a pretty good place if you’re running politically,” Zelizer told Yahoo News. “In the 2016 Democratic primary, the agent of change was Bernie Sanders, and in the end Democrats rallied around Hillary Clinton, who was also older. People like young and they see young as different, but when it comes time to vote, I don’t think age plays as solid a role as you’d think.”
Apart from the political message it sends, nominating a candidate pushing 80 presents at least one clear area of medical concern — the increased risk of dementia.
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