- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Sen. Bernard Sanders is taking time off from the campaign trail after undergoing emergency surgery for a clogged artery, putting a spotlight on the 78-year-old’s health and reviving a question that has loomed over the 2020 presidential race: How old is too old to be president?

Mr. Sanders‘ supporters said they have been assured there is no reason to hit the panic button, and the hard-charging and at times abrasive Vermont independent is eager to return to the campaign trail.

Other Democrats said they’re relieved that Mr. Sanders is OK, but said concerns over his age and health could dash his presidential aspirations.

“I think, personally, this is a nail in his coffin,” said Randy Black, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding who is remaining neutral in the nomination race. “People are going to look at him and say, ‘I think you are too old.’ Simple as that.”

President Trump, who is 73, became the oldest president sworn into office when he took the oath at the age of 70.

Mr. Sanders or former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, 76, could establish a new record if elected, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 70, would be among the oldest.

The health scare came on the heels of the campaign announcing it had raised more than $25 million over the last three months.

It marked the biggest single quarterly haul by any of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, and it gave Mr. Sanders‘ team the chance to downplay recent campaign shake-ups in Iowa and New Hampshire and shift the focus away from his slipping poll numbers.

The news also could have a negative spillover effect on Mr. Biden.

The former vice president’s meandering style and fact-challenged tales on the campaign trail have voters wondering whether he has physical and mental reserves for the job to defeat Mr. Trump and then handle the stress and rigor of being commander-in-chief.

“What this does is it is telling you and telling the population and the voters that maybe there is an age bracket where you shouldn’t be running,” Mr. Black said, predicting the other 70-year-old in the race, Ms. Warren, could get a courtesy pass.

“I don’t think voters put the age reference on a woman as much as they do a guy because the old adage is ‘We don’t ask a woman’s age,’ ” he said.

It is common for voters to take age and health into account when sussing out White House hopefuls.

In 2016, Mr. Trump faced down similar questions by releasing a statement from his physician that said if he won he would “be the healthiest individual elected to the presidency.”

Mr. Trump was also deemed to be in “very good health” following his annual physical this year.

As for his mental stability, Mr. Trump maintains he’s a “stable genius.”

In 1996, then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who is a prostate cancer survivor, and Pat Buchanan, who had had open-heart surgery, were each pressed about their medical histories.

When asked about his age in a 1984 debate with Democrat Walter Mondale, President Ronald Reagan, then 73, turned the question on its head, saying he would not “make age an issue in this campaign” and saying “he is not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Even Mr. Mondale laughed.

The debate over age and health has lingered just beneath the surface of the 2020 Democratic presidential race. The 30-, 40- and 50-somethings are calling for generational change and, in at least one instance, challenged the mental fortitude of their gray-haired rivals.

The contenders, though, wished Mr. Sander a fast recovery Wednesday when they learned he had been hospitalized after having “some chest discomfort” at a campaign rally.

“Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted. Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits,” senior Sanders‘ adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement Wednesday morning. “He will be resting up over the next few days. We are canceling his events and appearances until further notice.”

New Hampshire state Rep. Skip Cleaver, who has endorsed Mr. Sanders, said he is confident the candidate will rebound.

“I have talked to just about all the candidates and his energy outshines almost all of them, I think,” Mr. Cleaver said, before drawing a distinction with Mr. Biden. “It is a generational thing with Biden. Biden to me acts slow and old at times, and not so with Bernie.”

Mr. Cleaver also said Mr. Sanders might turn his emergency into a positive by using the experience to bolster his argument that everyone needs the level of health care he received and the best way to do that is through a Medicare-for-All system.

That’s exactly what Mr. Sanders did Wednesday afternoon, writing on Twitter, “I’m fortunate to have good health care and great doctors and nurses helping me to recover.

“None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us. And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!”

Another Sanders backer, Carlos Cardona, chairman of the Laconia, N.H., Democrats, said he has the “utmost confidence” that Mr. Sanders will be back on the trail this week, and said his reverence for Mr. Sanders is growing.

“I think age is just a number for him,” he said. “His experience and will to fight for the American public will probably outlast all of us. He will be the next Jimmy Carter for sure and Jimmy Carter is still building houses in his 90s.”

Mr. Sanders, who would be 79 years old if elected president, might not want to take his political cues from Mr. Carter, who recently joked that the job should have an age limit.

“I hope there is an age limit,” the 95-year-old said last month. “You know, if I were just 80 years old, if I were 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president.”

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