Does age matter when it comes to who occupies the White House? That’s a question that could be asked with more frequency should Hillary Clinton decide to seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. president, as she is widely expected to do, and as the Republican field of potential candidates fills up with 40-year-olds.
The former first lady and secretary of state will turn 67 in October, meaning she would be moving back into the White House at 69 if she won the 2016 election. Most U.S. presidents have been in their 40s or 50s when they took office, including the current president Barack Obama who was 47 when he won, so Clinton would be one of the oldest.
What role, if any, Clinton’s age might play — in her decision and in the race if she does go for it — has already been the subject of some debate. It may be rude to talk about a woman’s age, but politics plays by different rules.
Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who hasn’t ruled out another run at the Republican nomination (he tried in 2008), said last month that he’s not sure Clinton will run.
“I think everybody assumes she will but look, she’s going to be at an age where it’s going to be a challenge for her,” he said before going on to criticize her record as the U.S.’s top diplomat.
National Journal columnist Charlie Cook recently broached the topic in a piece that prompted more than 4,200 comments on the magazine’s website as well as accusations of sexism.
Cook didn’t say that Clinton shouldn’t run because of her age, he tried to make the point that perhaps she herself is taking it into consideration in making her decision. Becoming president is typically a nine-year commitment by taking a year to run then serving two four-year terms, the maximum allowed.
Worries about wrinkles
Cook wrote that her rigorous schedule as secretary of state took a toll on Clinton’s health and that the pace of a campaign is even more intense and she would be enduring it at an older age.
“This is not necessarily an end-all-be-all argument that she should or would not run, simply that she likely would have to think long and hard as to whether she is physically up to the rigours of running and serving in office,” he wrote.
Howard Kurtz noted in a Media Buzz column on Foxnews.com on the questions being raised about Clinton’s age that women politicians are scrutinized more than men when it comes to their birthdays.
“Hillary — she of the ever-changing hairstyles — has to worry about wrinkles in a way that male candidates do not.” He also warned that if Clinton critics try and use her age against her it could backfire.
Indeed the Republicans will have to be careful if they want to make an issue out of her age. Baby Boomer voters may be insulted and alienated if they claim someone in their late 60s is too old to be president. Plus their own candidate in 2008, Sen. John McCain, was 72 when he ran against Obama.
Vice-President Joe Biden, who would be 73 come election time, hasn’t ruled out a run for the top job and some Republicans have been contrasting his and Clinton’s ages with their own potential 2016 candidates.
“Don’t tell me that Democrats are the party of the future when their presidential ticket for 2016 is shaping up to look like a re-run of The Golden Girls,” Sen. Mitch McConnell told last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
“We’ve got Rand Paul, we’ve got Marco Rubio, we’ve got Paul Ryan and a slew of smart, young and energetic governors. And the other guys? They’ve got Hillary and Joe Biden,” he said.
Democrats have 'old, tired candidates'
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a 42-year-old Republican who is said to be interested in running for president, has said the Democrats have “old, tired candidates.”
If Clinton’s and Biden’s ages are used against them in the presidential race, the Republicans likely won’t be arguing that they are too old to carry out their duties, but rather they’ve just been around too long, their ideas are stale, and the White House should belong to a younger, fresher face.
The oldest of the potential candidates mentioned by McConnell is Rand Paul at 51, the rest are in their 40s and will be counted on to attract younger voters, who convincingly chose Obama over Mitt Romney and McCain in the last two elections.
If it is Clinton on the ballot in 2016, she could try and counter the Republican spin on her age by arguing that she’s been working in politics virtually as long as some of their potential candidates have been alive and she has the experience they lack to lead the country.
But Clinton, and her husband Bill, are polarizing figures and her age likely will have nothing to do with whether she gets elected or not.
“If Hillary Clinton runs for president and doesn’t win it's not going to be because of her age,' the National Journal's Cook said in an interview.
The Democrats have been in for two terms and Obama’s approval ratings are abysmal, voters may be looking for a change no matter who is running for the Democrats, he said.
Clinton also has her share of critics based solely on her own record as a New York senator and as secretary of state.
First thing is first though — Clinton has to decide if she will run.
“Having turned 60, I can tell you that people don’t make eight or nine-year commitments lightly when they’re in their 60s, particularly their late 60s,” said Cook.
If Clinton does become president in 2016, she still won't hold the record for oldest elected president — that title goes to the president who is revered, adored and considered nearly flawless by Republicans, Ronald Reagan. He was inaugurated in 1981 at the age of 69, and turned 70 two weeks later. He was 77 when he left the White House.