San­ders, Bi­den tackle age con­cerns

Some vot­ers un­easy that can­di­dates are in their late 70s

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Steve Peo­ples and Alexandra Jaffe

MARSHALLTO­WN, Iowa — Bernie San­ders in­sists he feels bet­ter than ever less than a month af­ter heart surgery, but his re­turn to the cam­paign trail sparked new ques­tions about the un­usu­ally old age of the Demo­cratic Party’s lead­ing 2020 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

Both San­ders, 78, and Joe Bi­den, 76, sug­gest their age isn’t a ma­jor is­sue, but vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly older vot­ers, aren’t so sure.

Gor­don Lund­berg, a 71year-old re­tired Lutheran pas­tor from Ames, Iowa, said can­di­dates’ health is a key is­sue for him be­cause he un­der­stands how it feels to age. He’s lean­ing to­ward Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts be­cause, even though she’s 70, “she’s the most lib­eral and she’s not got one foot in the grave yet.”

“Bernie’s just too darn old. And so is Bi­den,” Lund­berg said. “They look old, they sound old, they are old. They fall in the shower, and they get heart at­tacks!” Lund­berg is not alone. Polling has sug­gested that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Amer­i­cans be­lieve a can­di­date in his or her late 70s is too old to be pres­i­dent. If elected, San­ders would take of­fice hav­ing al­ready ex­ceeded the aver­age U.S. life ex­pectancy of 78.6 years, ac­cord­ing to data from the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion’s Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Statis­tics. Bi­den would be just a few months away.

War­ren would be the old­est new pres­i­dent in his­tory, eclips­ing Trump, who him­self eclipsed Ronald Rea­gan. Bi­den and San­ders would be older on their first day in of­fice than Rea­gan, a two-term pres­i­dent, was on his last.

While Bi­den, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent, has of­ten laughed off ques­tions about his age, the is­sue is one that San­ders has been forced to con­front more di­rectly as he re­turned to Iowa last week. San­ders, a sen­a­tor from Ver­mont, is trav­el­ing with his wife and cam­paign man­ager, whose re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude en­sur­ing that he take mod­est pre­cau­tions not to overex­ert him­self, takes daily walks of at least half an hour with no phone calls and sticks to a health­ier diet.

“He wants to run,” said cam­paign man­ager Faiz Shakir, who said he would likely ac­com­pany San­ders on the cam­paign trail for the next month. “Our job is to make sure he knows he’s in a marathon, not a sprint.”

San­ders opened up about his health dur­ing an in­ter­view at a cof­fee shop in Des Moines, one of sev­eral he con­ducted this week as he works to con­vince vot­ers in the first states on the 2020 pres­i­den­tial pri­mary cal­en­dar that he’s phys­i­cally able to beat Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump next fall and as­sume the de­mands of the pres­i­dency.

San­ders told The As­so­ci­ated Press that he was look­ing for­ward to “a 100% re­cov­ery — full re­cov­ery.”

“Now I got three good ar­ter­ies,” he said. “And three good ar­ter­ies are bet­ter than two good ar­ter­ies. So, I’m feel­ing pretty good.”

At a sub­se­quent cam­paign ap­pear­ance in Marshallto­wn, he con­fronted the age ques­tion di­rectly with­out be­ing asked.

“I’ve been crit­i­cized for be­ing old. I plead guilty. I am old,” San­ders said, spark­ing laugh­ter and ap­plause in the au­di­ence.

And at a Fri­day event in New­ton, Iowa, he in­sisted that his ad­vanced age of­fered some ad­van­tages. Specif­i­cally, peo­ple have had decades to study him and his poli­cies. He has sup­ported Medi­care for All, for ex­am­ple, for three decades.

“Hav­ing a long record gives peo­ple the un­der­stand­ing that these ideas that I’m talk­ing about, they’re in my guts, they’re in my heart,” he charged. “This is who I am as a hu­man be­ing.”

Many in the au­di­ence ap­plauded the mes­sage. But af­ter the Marshallto­wn event, not ev­ery­one was cheer­ing.

Re­tired Marshallto­wn res­i­dent Ed Canade, 72, de­scribed him­self as “some­what con­cerned” about San­ders’ age.

“I know as I age, ev­ery­thing isn’t quite as sharp. That’s the re­al­ity of age. I can feel it in my own body,” Canade said. “I think Bernie’s do­ing well for his age.”

Mean­while, Bi­den called his age “a le­git­i­mate ques­tion” in an in­ter­view days af­ter en­ter­ing the pres­i­den­tial race in April and said it’s up to vot­ers to “watch me” and de­cide for them­selves.

Since then, Bi­den has not been forced to con­front the age ques­tion as of­ten as San­ders, de­spite fre­quent gaffes on the cam­paign trail. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent has fre­quently ap­peared to mix up dates, of­fer out­dated pop cul­ture ref­er­ences and for­get his words.

He promised ear­lier in the month to re­lease his health records to help demon­strate his phys­i­cal readi­ness for the na­tion’s top job.

While na­tional polls sug­gest Bi­den is do­ing well among older vot­ers, on the ground in the state that will hold the na­tion’s first pres­i­den­tial pri­mary con­test, Democrats see age as an is­sue for Bi­den and San­ders.

Kathy Judge, a 58-yearold nurse from Ames, went so far as to call San­ders and Bi­den “very self-cen­tered and very self­ish by stay­ing in the race” when, she said, there are ques­tions over whether they’re “phys­i­cally ca­pa­ble” of fin­ish­ing the run.

As an older in­di­vid­ual her­self, she said, she sees their ages wear­ing on them.

“Bernie San­ders has al­ready had a heart at­tack! Joe Bi­den can’t re­mem­ber what day it is! Now, I can’t ei­ther some days, I will ad­mit that, but we need some­one who is sharp and thinks on their feet and doesn’t fum­ble words,” said Judge, who sup­ports 50-year-old Cory Booker, the New Jersey sen­a­tor.

At a Bi­den event over the sum­mer in Man­ning, Donna For­man, a 72-year-old re­tiree, said the for­mer vice pres­i­dent is in her top three, along with Booker and 59year-old Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota. But the one ma­jor con­cern she has about Bi­den is his age.

“Be­cause I know peo­ple that are old — in­clud­ing my­self,” she said. “I’m get­ting there. And I think Don­ald Trump is a per­fect ex­am­ple of why no­body over 70 should run for any­thing.”

CHAR­LIE NEIBERGALL/AP

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den called his age “a le­git­i­mate ques­tion,” and said vot­ers should de­cide for them­selves.

SCOTT HEINS/GETTY

If elected, Sen. Bernie San­ders would take of­fice al­ready ex­ceed­ing the aver­age U.S. life ex­pectancy of 78.6 years.

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