This is probably about a week too late, but it's a question that's been floating around in my head recently that I've yet to see addressed anywhere. Ted Kennedy's ominous diagnosis last week underscores what is going to be a major issue in this presidential campaign: age. Rep. John Murtha (PA-D) has said McCain is too old, Howard Dean has said it won't be an issue and McCain himself has taken the self-deprecating route on his age. But like Nixon's five o'clock shadow during the televised debate against John Kennedy in 1960, the age difference between McCain and VANP (That's very almost nearly presumptive) Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, is going to be noticeable.
Is that necessarily a bad thing for McCain? No, because on the one hand you have age, but on the other is experience. The former carries something of a negative connotation while the latter is more positive. When voters begin to see more of the contrast between Obama and McCain will that trigger thoughts on age or experience? Do they see a 76 year old politician diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and project that onto a presidential candidate who would be 76 himself at the tail end of his first term as president? Or do voters see an experience gap between the two (Obama playing the naive role and McCain the role of someone who has been around the block a time or two)?
I suspect that this may vary based on party identification: Democrats see an old man in McCain while those on the right see an experienced candidate and a "reckless" younger candidate. But what do those independents think when they see that contrast? Where they fall will more than likely tip the balance toward age or experience emerging as the dominant view. As we've seen throughout the Democratic primaries, though, a person's age has a lot to do with this as well. Older voters have gravitated toward Clinton while younger voters have overwhelmingly backed Obama. Party ID may supersede age in the general election, but a voter's age may have some part in determining whether age or experience becomes the prevailing view.
In the end, age will take a backseat to the economy or the Iraq war, but it is a distinction that could prove consequential in an Obama-McCain general election campaign (especially if the election proves to be as close as it has look in some of the electoral college maps). What are your thoughts? Is it age, is it experience, or does it even matter? The comments section beckons.
The Electoral College Maps (5/28/08)
Test Run: The McCain-Obama Map (5/28/08)
Kansas Final Tally: 73.9% of the Vote, 71.8% of the Delegates