Bob Dole, the Republican leader in the Senate, said recently he has instructed his advisers to "seek commitments" from strategists and fund raisers for a presidential campaign in 1996. This has to be his -- and his generation's -- last hurrah. On Election Day 1996, he will be 73 years and three months old -- older than any man ever elected to the presidency.
Many political observers believe the torch that was passed to his generation in 1960 has now been permanently passed to a younger generation.
It is interesting to note the birth dates of the speakers at last month's Republican rally in Iowa: Lamar Alexander, 1940, Pat Buchanan, 1938, Dick Cheney, 1941, Phil Gramm, 1942, Tom Kean, 1935, Lynn Martin 1939, and Arlen Specter, 1930. Only Senator Specter reached even his teen years during World War II. And no Democratic presidential prospect in the year 2000, or even in 1996, is old enough to have shared the World War II experience, much less that of the Great Depression -- another event that shaped government and politics and public opinion for good.
As a further obstacle to Senator Dole, voters who do remember those events well voted Democratic in 1992. The Clinton-Gore ticket did better among over-60 voters than any other age group. Senator Dole might argue that statistic proves age is irrelevant to voters. He might also point out that while no one 73 and three months has been elected president, Ronald Reagan was 73 and six months when he was re-elected by a landslide. He can also point to a recent poll that showed him running far better against President Clinton than Dick Cheney (b. 1941) or Jack Kemp (1935).
In our view, Senator Dole's age is not as much a problem for him as his rage. He looks younger than he is, but he often sounds angrier than he ought to be. This facet of his personality makes him come across as negative, obstructionist -- "Senator No." That helped derail his presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1988. When it comes to a president, voters want a leader, not a naysayer. It is not easy to display that when you are only minority leader, but it is probably the key to the success of Senator Dole's third and last campaign for the presidency.