HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you, happy birthday to...


HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you, happy birthday to you, happy birth-day Bob Do-ole, happy birthday to you!

He hates that.

He turned 72 day before yesterday. That's bad news for Dole, historically speaking. When he goes to the Republican National TC Convention next year, he'll be older than anyone ever nominated (for the first time) for president. (Ronald Reagan was 73 when re-nominated in 1984.) Every news item about Dole's age is a negative.

But there's also some good news, historically speaking. Dole is the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination now. Republican front-runners, unlike Democratic ones, almost always win their party's nod. As William F. Buckley has put it, "Arrivals of the star in the third act tend not to happen in the GOP."

Back to Point 1: age. Political analyst Charles Cook says, "The biggest remaining obstacle to Dole's nomination and, for that matter, his election to the White House, is the age issue." U.S. News columnist Michael Barone says, "Voters are going to keep looking at a man of his [Dole's] age to see how he's doing. So far, so good. But we've got a long run up before the primaries."

How old, really, in the political context is Dole? Well, he is the second oldest Senate majority leader in history. Only Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., was older. Mansfield was 73 years, six months and 14 days when his last Senate adjourned in 1976. Dole could conceivably break that record. It would break his heart. He'd have to serve till mid-February, 1997, meaning, of course, that he would not become president.

The Senate is generally thought of as a place for geezers. "Senate" comes from the same Latin root that gave us "senior" and "senile." But this Senate's not so old. Of its 100 members, only Dole and 14 others have reached their Biblical allotment of 70 years.

It's not a very vigorous cast of characters. Dole can be forgiven if he doesn't want to be identified with such members of his generation as Howell Heflin, William Roth, James Exon, Jesse Helms, Claiborne Pell, Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd among others. Depressing, eh? If you're of a certain age, Reader, here's something even more depressing to think about: That's also Jack Kennedy's generation.

Charles Cook says, "It may be of little consequence if Clinton or other candidates catch a cold or the flu during this campaign. . . . [but] the media will certainly make a huge scene if Dole so much as sneezes or gets a sore throat."

That's true. At one point Dole thought about trying to defuse the age and health issue by pledging to serve only one term. William Buckley thinks one term is inevitable, campaign promise or not. He also thinks that "if Dole gets the nomination, Colin Powell will feel a very strong impulse to serve him [as running mate]. . . [and] Colin Powell will be inaugurated as president in January of 2001."

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