Related topics

Dole’s Answer to the Age Issue: Stamina

May 29, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ He’s healthy and he’s vigorous, but Bob Dole also is inescapably 72-years-old. No one knows if that’s an issue that will trip him in his race for the White House.

His age didn’t stop Dole from cleaning up in the primaries. One opponent, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, tried to plant the idea that Dole was too old, saying things like, ``It’s time Republicans said again with respect, loudly and clearly, `Senator Dole, it may be your turn, but it’s not your revolution.‴

The tactic got him nowhere; Alexander washed out early, even though in surveys during nearly a third of Republican primary voters said they thought Dole’s age would hurt him in the presidency.

Dole’s age is one of those back-of-the-mind issues. At a parade on Memorial Day, voter Elaine Adler-Amrani of Clifton, N.J., told a reporter as Dole walked by, ``Quite frankly, he’s too old. He looks very frail. President is a tough job.″ She said she’d vote for Clinton.

Whether voters like her are numerous enough to make Dole’s age an important handicap is not known. Dole’s answer is to try to make an asset of age’s great side effect _ experience _ and to demonstrate his vitality.

Dole would be 73 on Inauguration Day, older than any president upon taking office for the first time. Ronald Reagan was 73 when he started his second term in 1985.

The Democrats have to tread carefully here. They run the risk of engendering sympathy for Dole _ and of offending senior voters _ if they attack the issue head on.

But Clinton seemed to be raising it, subtly, when he saluted Dole’s World War II service in his State of the Union address in January and when he invited photographers to show him hoisting a log on Earth Day.

And sensitivity to the nuances didn’t keep Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut from joking last week at a Democratic dinner about a newly displayed 500-year-old mummy. ``In high school,″ said Lieberman, ``she dated Bob Dole.″

Dole indirectly acknowledges the age issue when he talks about choosing a running mate. ``Obviously it will be a younger person, somebody who’s in good health,″ he has said. He also said he would pick someone ``ready to take over on day one if necessary.″

Dole’s doctor says he’s in great shape for a man his age and with his medical history. Dole’s own vigor tends to help neutralize the issue. Reporters who travel with him marvel at his stamina.

``I have good genes and good health,″ the senator says _ and better cholesterol and blood pressure numbers than Clinton.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Dole’s fitness is the first question that voters will ask themselves.

``Either he is healthy enough and sound enough and agile enough to be president of the United States or he isn’t,″ the speaker said.

``And it’s not going to help any to say, `You know, Dole can’t pass that test, but he’s got a really great vice presidential nominee.‴

GOP consultant Lyn Nofziger disagreed.

``He’s got to get somebody younger,″ Nofziger said, ``and somebody who the American people can look at and say, `Hey, if something happens to Bob Dole, this guy can govern.‴

Update hourly