- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

As Americans kick off Memorial Day weekend, Sen. John McCain today will release 400 pages of his medical records to a handpicked group of reporters who can neither walk out with the documents nor photocopy them, illustrating the campaign’s sensitivity about the 71-year-old candidate’s age and health.

The health of the presumed Republican presidential nominee, who bears large scars on his face and neck from surgery in 2000 to remove an invasive form of skin cancer, has been a question throughout the early part of the campaign.

For more than a year, the four-term senator has repeatedly promised to release his recent medical records but has not done so.

The McCain campaign has selected a few news organizations to review the records today in a conference room at the CopperWynd Resort and Club in Fountain Hills, Ariz., near the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.

Reporters from all five major news networks - CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and Fox - will be allowed to take notes from the records, as will wire reporters from the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg news agencies. Just two print newspapers will be among the pool: The Washington Post and the Arizona Republic.

McCain campaign officials said yesterday that the high level of interest in the records meant that they had to limit access by reporters.

“We had to do it at the Mayo Clinic, and the doctors there probably didn’t want 200 reporters running around,” senior McCain adviser Charlie Black said. “It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s the best available.”

No independent doctors will be allowed to examine the records, although McCain officials said yesterday that most networks were flying their medical correspondents, some of whom are doctors, into Phoenix last night.

The candidate’s age - at 72, he would be the oldest president ever to take office - and especially his health threaten to become campaign issues. At 46, his likely opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, is young enough to be his son, and has highlighted his health by doffing his shirt at the beach and sprinting up and down a basketball court - all in front of news cameras.

The Obama campaign insists that it will not make age an issue in the campaign, and the one-term senator from Illinois faces the same danger Walter Mondale did in 1984 when he sought to portray President Reagan as too old for the demanding job of president. In a memorable debate line, Mr. Reagan, 73, said of the 56-year-old Democrat: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

The records dump, reminiscent of those during the presidency of Bill Clinton, is taking place as Americans head into a three-day weekend, and just days after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, was diagnosed with a grave form of brain cancer.

Mr. Black said the campaign’s communications director and others have been working on the release “for weeks,” and that it is not timed to reduce the impact of whatever the records contain.

Democrats aren’t buying that.

“This is not coincidental timing; we’re not that dumb,” said Democratic consultant Bud Jackson. “This is a public relations tactic to release them on a Friday before a summer holiday, which is going to result in probably the lowest viewership and readership possible.”

For his part, Mr. McCain, told reporters last Friday that they will be underwhelmed by the medical findings.

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