WASHINGTON - President Ronald Reagan was 73 years old when he sought re-election to a second term in 1984 against a relatively youthful Sen. Walter Mondale who was just 56.
Questions were raised at that time about Reagan’s age and whether he was too old for the job, especially when he had not performed well in the first of two debates with the Minnesota senator.
“The question of whether Reagan’s age was affecting his performance as president was the lead the following day,” CNN reported in its post-debate newscasts.
However, Reagan was as sharp as ever in the second debate on Oct. 21, 1984 in Kansas City, Mo., determined to prove he was in full command of his presidency and the issues Americans cared about most.
But this time around the age issue was raised far more bluntly by Henry “Hank” Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun who asked Reagan, “Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?”
"Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt, and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
The auditorium exploded with sustained laughter and applause, acknowledging that the president had belted a political home run. As the audience quieted, Trewhitt replied, “Mr. President, I’d like to head for the fence and try to catch that one before it goes over.”
But in the end, Reagan was never in any real trouble. Mondale lost in a landslide, with the president carrying 49 states out of 50 and winning 58.8 percent of the popular vote.
This year’s election lineup is a somewhat different story as far as the age issue goes. If the presidential preference polls in the Democratic nomination race are correct, it’s beginning to look like the age issue on steroids.
President Trump, who will be 74 years old next year, will be facing former Vice President Joe Biden, who is 76 now, but will be 77 next year.
Biden is currently the leading presidential hopeful in the Democratic race for the nomination, made up mostly of a bunch of nobodies with little to no legitimate experience for the highest office in the land.
“Right now, this appears likely to be a two-person race between Joe Biden and [Massachusetts Senator] Elizabeth Warren, and it will be until someone else elbows their way in,” writes Charlie Cook in his widely read political newsletter, The Cook Political Report.
“Sure, current polling has Biden with a lead of a dozen points over Warren and Bernie Sanders, but Warren is ascending while Biden suffered a drop in the spring, and he has coasted since, showing little momentum,” Cook tells us.
As of early this month, Biden is ahead of Sanders by 10 points, according to the ABC News/Washington Post poll of registered Democrats or independents taken Sept. 2-5.
The nearly 80-year-old Vermonter is virtually tied with Warren whose polls show her with 17 percent support in the crowded nomination race.
Meantime, the RealClearPolitics average puts Biden’s support at 30 percent, “followed by Warren and Sanders at 18 percent each,” Cook Reports.
The other, largely unknown presidential wannabes are so far in the back of the pack, they rarely get mentioned.
California Sen. Kamala Harris’ support is at 7 percent and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is trailing her at 4 percent.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker were in sixth place at 3 percent each.
If you’ve never heard of most of these names, you are not alone.
It used to be in earlier times that candidates who were seeking the presidency had made a national name for themselves and their accomplishments in Congress, or as the governor of a major state.
But no longer. All it takes is some ready money and a big ego with little to back it up.
So, can frontrunner Biden win the nomination? Or will Warren overtake him? Charlie Cook offers three possibilities: “Biden could (1) hang on; (2) collapse all at once; or (3) fade away gradually.”
It’s “a Biden-Warren contest” now, but “the possibility still exists for a third candidate to catch on in the next month or so…” he says.