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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, June 15, 2019 1:00 am

A campaign for the ages (or is it the aged?)

Those of a certain age may remember when Ronald Reagan's opponents said he was too old to run for president. When he was inaugurated in 1981, he was 69, a record until 2016, when Donald Trump was sworn in at 70.

There were those who said John F. Kennedy was too young to run for president. He was the youngest elected president, taking the oath of office at 43 in 1961. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest person to become president – at 42, after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.

This election cycle, there are serious candidates who could shatter those records.

Joe Biden will be 78 on Inauguration Day 2021. Bernie Sanders will be 79. And at the other end of the Democratic field, Pete Buttigieg will be 39. Trump, who will be 74, would break Reagan's record as the oldest second-term president.

In a 1984 debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale, Reagan turned the age issue on its ear.

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” Reagan said. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.”

Some would argue age is not always just a number. Some say Kennedy might have avoided such early missteps as the Bay of Pigs fiasco and a disastrous summit meeting with Nikita Khrushchev if he had been more seasoned. Some say Reagan's lack of clarity about what was going on during the Iran-Contra scandal was intensified by his age, and note that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease a few years after leaving office. Now presidential ageists could point to statistics showing Americans living shorter and shorter lives and ask why we are comfortable backing older and older candidates.

This coming election may provide a classic test of whether Americans consider age important in a president. Of course, everything we know about the nation's voting habits suggests at least four out of 10 eligible American voters won't select a candidate based on his or her age, or any other factor. That's the 40% of Americans who won't bother to vote at all.