As Americans kick off the first holiday weekend of the summer Friday, Sen. John McCain will release 400 pages of his medical records to a handpicked group of reporters who can neither photocopy nor keep the documents, illustrating the sensitivity the campaign places on the 71-year-old candidate’s age and health.
For more than a year, the four-term senator has repeatedly promised to release his recent medical records, but has not yet done so.
The McCain campaign has selected a handful of news organizations to review the records today in a conference room at the Copper Wynd Resort 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 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,” said senior McCain adviser Charlie Black. “It’s not a perfect situation, but its the best available.” No independent doctors will be allowed to examine the records, although McCain officials said Thursday that most networks are flying in their medical correspondents, some of whom are doctors.
The records dump comes as Americans head in to a three-day weekend, and just days after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was diagnosed with a grave form of brain cancer. But Mr. Black said the campaign’s communications director and others have been working on the release “for weeks,” and is not timed to reduce the impact of whatever the records contain.
Mr. McCain, for his part, said reporters will be underwhelmed by the medical findings.
“There are going to be no surprises, he told reporters last Friday aboard his campaign bus on a trip to West Virginia. His doctors “have told me that everythings fine,” he said.
The medical records released Friday will cover the years 2000 to 2008. In 1999, during his first campaign for president, the senator released 1,500 pages of in-depth medical and psychiatric records, some collected during a a Navy project to gauge the health of former prisoners of war. Mr. McCain spent more than five years in a Vietnam prison camp and suffers long-term effects from his incarceration: He cannot lift his arms over his above shoulder height and underwent months of rehabilitation to renew flexibility in his legs.
The Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, one of the best medical facilities in the country, was the site where Mr. McCain underwent nearly six hours after he was diagnosed with Stage 2A melanoma, a form of cancer that kills a third of sufferers within 10 years.
Doctors incised a dime-sized discolored blotch from his left temple, but also made an incision down his left cheek to remove lymph nodes in his neck, even though they later found the cancer had not spread there.
Mr. McCain left cheek is still puffy and laced with the large scar he likes to joke on the campaign trail that “I’m older than dirt and I’ve got more scars than Frankenstein.”
Still, 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 just 46, Sen. Barack Obama, Mr. McCain’s likely opponent, is young enough to be his son, and he has highlighted his health by doffing his shirt at the beach and sprinting up and down the basketball court, all, of course, in front of news cameras.
The Obama campaign insists it will not make age an issue in the campaign, and in some ways the one-term senator faces the same danger Walter Mondale did 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.” On the campaign trail, Mr. McCain is a dynamo, often tiring out reporters half his age from his dawn-to-well-past-dusk schedule. Whenever age comes up during a town hall meeting with voters, he points to his 96-year-old mother, Roberta as proof that he comes from hearty genetic stock.
“If there’s any question about any age problem we might have in this campaign, there’s my genes,” Mr McCain said at a campaign stop in Iowa in January. “Last Christmas, she went to France. She landed in Paris and wanted to rent a car. They told her she was too old so she bought one. Way to go, Mom!”