John McCain's Age: An Issue?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 12:10 PM EDT

Yesterday, the DNC released some internal polling it conducted on John McCain. There's nothing groundbreaking — some people know a lot about McCain, some don't; some can be swayed by new (presumably negative) information about McCain, some can't — but there is one interesting observation. When swing voters are asked about McCain, the "most frequently volunteered concerns" are his age (19%), his position on the Iraq War (18%), his support for continuing the policies of the Bush Administration (10%), and his positions on economic issues (8%).

That first number is pretty stunning: nearly twice as many people are worried about McCain's age — he'll be 72 in August — than his manifold similarities to a failed president who has an approval rating hovering around 30 percent.

But will the Democrats make an issue of McCain's age? Not according to party chairman Howard Dean, who said yesterday, "I doubt we will bring it up in the election." Dean tried to portray the decision as a moral one: "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." In reality, Dean is probably unwilling to risk upsetting the AARP vote, which turns out reliably and doesn't want to hear that an energetic man of its age should be disqualified from holding office. Age discrimination, and all that.

That doesn't mean age won't be an issue. There will be independent liberal groups, not to mention liberal blogs, that will be all too happy to suggest McCain is "too old-fashioned" or "out of touch with modern views." Heck, even the Democratic nominee can play this game — a surrogate can "accidentally" make a comment that inserts age into the national debate, and then apologize the next day after the damage is done.

And of course, every story and blog post that debates whether age should be an issue makes age an issue.