Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is Hillary Too Old To Win?

The comments that Karl Rove made last week about Hillary Clinton's health also brought to my mind the question of her age.

Hillary will be 69 years old if she is elected President of the United States in 2016.  Only Ronald Reagan was older when he took the oath of office as President.

Credit: National Journal

The average age of individuals who have taken the oath of office of President over the last 100 years has been 55.5 years.  Therefore, Hillary would be almost a decade and a half older than the average age if she were to win The White House.

More interesting, Democrat Presidents have historically tended to be younger than Republican Presidents over the last century.

The average age of Democrats is 51.8.  Republican Presidents have an average age over the last century of 59.  If Truman and Lyndon Johnson are excluded (both first became President after the death of their predecessor) the average age for Democrats first elected President drops to 49.3--almost a decade a younger than Republicans.

Consider the nominees for each party for President since 1972.

Year                    Democrat                                       Republican

1972                    McGovern (50)                                Nixon (56)

1976                    Carter  (52)                                       Ford (63)

1980                    Carter (56)                                        Reagan (69)

1984                    Mondale (56)                                    Reagan (73)

1988                    Dukakis  (55)                                    George H.W. Bush (64)

1992                    Clinton  (47)                                      George H.W. Bush (68)

1996                    Clinton  (51)                                       Dole (73)

2000                    Gore  (52)                                         George W. Bush (54)

2004                    Kerry (61)                                          George W. Bush (58)

2008                    Obama (47)                                        McCain (72)

2012                    Obama  (51)                                        Romney (65)

In all but one election since 1972 the Democrat candidate for President has been younger than the Republican nominee. The only exception was Kerry in 2004.  Kerry is also the only Democrat candidate who has been over the age of 60 in the last 40 years.

On the other hand, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon are the only Republican candidates who have been under the age of 60!

Why does there appear to be a bias for younger candidates with Democrat nominees for President while Republicans seem to prefer older candidates?

I believe it has to do with the fact that each party's supporters fundamentally view the world in two different ways.  Democrats see the world in much more theoretical and idealistic terms.  Republicans tend to be more practical and pragmatic in their outlook.

Democrats tend to favor the most idealistic of the candidates. They seem to be more easily smitten with the new and fresh face. Who is the knight in shining armor that is going to make everything right?

Republicans have a tendency to nominate the most practical choice.  Or the steadiest hand with the lowest downside.  Being the fresh face in a field of Republican hopefuls has historically been a risky proposition.   Republicans have not been prone to roll the dice with their candidates.  Democrats are more like riverboat gamblers when making their choice. Style seems to be more important than substance and ideology trumps experience.

These perspectives also seem to have an affect on the age of the candidate. Since Democrats in the primary process tend to favor new, fresh faces, younger candidates apparently have an edge. Republicans, on the other hand, are looking for the proven, practical choice.  That is usually someone with some gray hairs on their head.

Look at the record.  The Democrats nominated the young JFK over Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson in 1960.  LBJ was not seriously challenged in 1964 but Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy caused him to withdraw from the race in 1968. Humphrey got the nomination that year but he did it by relying on the party bosses.  He did not run in one primary.

The Democrats came back in 1972 with liberal, anti-war South Dakota Senator George McGovern. They then turned to a relatively unknown Georgia governor in 1976.  Carter survived a challenge by Teddy Kennedy in 1980 who arguably had the more established political resume.

The Democrats went against type in 1984 with former VP Mondale but not without becoming enamored with super-cool,young Senator Gary Hart. They came back with a big bet with long-shot Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Bill Clinton, another young first time Presidential candidate from a small state, prevailed in 1992.  They went against type with Al Gore in 2000 but he was only opposed by one candidate that year, Bill Bradley.  They then started a love affair with Howard Dean before he imploded early in 2004 and John Kerry was able to fill the vacuum.  Of course, untested Barack Obama then upset Hillary Clinton in 2008.

The Republicans, on the other hand, always seem to be looking for the most practical candidate they can find.  Nixon in 1960. Barry Goldwater won the nomination over Nelson Rockefeller and Bill Scranton in 1964 that was against type.  However, that was a watershed year that marked the end of the influence of the East Coast moderates in the GOP.

Nixon was the nominee again in 1968 and 1972.  Ford held off the emerging conservative movement with Reagan in 1976.  However, it opened the door for Reagan to be the practical choice for the nomination in 1980.

Bush, another VP, gained the nomination in 1988 and held off challenger Pat Buchanan in 1992. Steady Bob Dole was the guy in 1996.  George W. Bush was a newcomer in 2000 but he had the advantage of his father's name and an organization that positioned him as the establishment favorite from the start. Of course, John McCain prevailed in 2008 against newcomers Romney and Huckabee. That then set the stage for Mitt Romney to become the practical choice in 2012.

I am not saying that Hillary Clinton will not win the Democrat nomination in 2016.  She has enormous political advantages from both organizational and fund raising perspectives.  Her name identification is through the roof and the fact that she could become the first female President provides her with tremendous political appeal for the Democrat faithful. However, she did get beat by a younger, cooler, African-American male in 2008 in the Democratic primaries when she was eight years younger.  Who says it can't happen again with the right person?

More interesting is whether Hillary can win the general election at age 69 if she garners the Democratic nomination.  Especially if she is running against a Republican who is not in their 60's and has some charisma and some cool.

If Hillary is able to gain the nomination and be elected President of the United States as a Democrat as a woman at age 69 it will truly be historic on several levels.

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