The dreaded septuagenarian issue

Why John McCain's age may be a sleeper issue in the presidential campaign.

Published April 11, 2008 3:04PM (EDT)

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean hosted a press briefing yesterday to go over some new polling data from 17 swing states, and mentioned that the party would probably not go after John McCain's age as a campaign issue.

Noting that it's the kind of tactic Republicans would be far more comfortable with, Dean said, "I doubt we will bring it up in the election." He added, "There is somewhat of a higher ethical bar on what we do. We don't have any Lee Atwaters or Karl Roves on our side."

That said, the opportunity is certainly there.

Dean added ... that in recent DNC-sponsored focus groups designed to gauge voter opinions about McCain, participants regularly brought up the Arizona Senator's age as a potential point of concern.

Those worries fell into two main categories, Dean said. The first was a "health concern"; the second was the idea that McCain has "very old fashioned" opinions on a variety of topics. As evidence, Dean cited a focus group of conservative women in Charleston, West Virginia. When the Democratic organizers of the group told participants that McCain opposed insurance coverage for birth control pills and supported abstinence-only education in schools, they reportedly said "this guy is out of step with what modern views are."

A Republican National Committee spokesperson insisted that age is not a concern because voters associate McCain with "judgment, character, vision and leadership."

That's debatable, of course, but there's ample polling evidence that if they also associate McCain with 72 candles on a birthday cake, it may be a real problem for the Republican campaign.

By Steve Benen

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