A Dust-up Over the McCain Age Issue

A comment by Obama prompts a response from a McCain adviser.

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The age issue is erupting in the presidential campaign. It was prompted by Barack Obama's comment yesterday on CNN that John McCain was "losing his bearings" because he pointed out that a senior Hamas adviser said Hamas would welcome Obama's election as president.

Mark Salter, a key McCain adviser, took offense and issued a response accusing Obama of raising the age issue and not playing fair. "First," Salter said in an E-mail to reporters and McCain supporters, "let us be clear about the nature of Senator Obama's attack today. He used the words 'losing his bearings' intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as an issue. This is typical of Obama's style of campaigning."

If elected, McCain would be the oldest person to take the oath of office for a first term, at 72, and many voters tell pollsters they are concerned that McCain is too old for the job.

Bill Burton, Obama's spokesman, issued a riposte in an E-mail titled "Response to McCain Campaign Rant." Burton said; "Clearly losing one's bearings has no relation to age, given this bizarre rant that Mark Salter just sent out. It's clear why a candidate offering a third term of George Bush's disastrous economic policies and failed strategy in Iraq would want to distract and attack, but it's not the kind of campaign John McCain has promised to the American people that he would run."

The McCain team is clearly sensitive to the age issue. They also addressed it indirectly in a new TV ad for Mother's Day this weekend, in which McCain and his 96-year-old mom, Roberta, talk about his childhood. She comes across as strong and energetic—and a good antidote to the concerns about her son's advancing years.

—Kenneth T. Walsh