What Older Voters Say About Biden 2024: From ‘He’s Good’ to ‘Oh My God’

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What Older Voters Say About Biden 2024: From ‘He’s Good’ to ‘Oh My God’

Over the past three decades, Americans have elected presidents who felt their pain and channeled their anger, who broke down historical barriers or seemed like pleasant beer drinking companions.

But if voters often want leaders who reflect themselves and their struggles, President Biden’s potential bid for a second term, which he will end at age 86, is stirring extremely complex feelings among a highly engaged constituency: his generational colleagues.

Three years after older voters helped Mr. Biden win the Democratic presidential nomination, embracing his wealth of experience and perceived general election appeal, his age is his biggest political issue as he moves toward a new presidency. candidacy, which he can announce as soon as Tuesday. It is a source of mockery and sometimes misinformation from the right—although the now-accused Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner facing a quagmire of legal troubles, is just a few years younger — and one of widespread concern among Democrats.

But the issue is particularly personal for older voters, who tend to like Mr. Biden but often view his age through the lens of their own experiences.

They are getting old. He is getting old. They are not the President of the United States.

In interviews with about three dozen voters, political veterans and prominent Americans between the ages of 67 and 98, the discussion of Mr. Biden’s age sparked not only electoral analysis but wide-ranging discussions about their own abilities and changes in their lives. Some openly wrestled with questions of mortality, while others went into grandparent mode, exhorting the president to take care of himself.

“I’m 72 years old and I’m a young predator here in The Villages,” said Diane Foley, president of The Villages Democratic Club in the Republican-leaning mega-retirement community in Florida, which encouraged Mr. Biden to run again. “There are incredibly energetic, active people in their 80s and some in their 90s.”

“One must know one’s limits,” advised Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, 94, the renowned sex therapist. These days she is busy with a project on the grandparent-grandchild relationship, but prefers to hold meetings from home.

“I would say the president should run again, but he also shouldn’t take the podium,” she added. “I don’t want him to fall.”

And former congressman Charles B. Rangel of New York, who at 92 has a dark sense of humor about his future — “I don’t buy green bananas at my age” — has signaled his support for Biden’s candidacy. But he is eager for a new generation of leaders.

“Maybe I feel so strongly because I’m leaving relatively soon and I want to see what comes next,” Mr. Rangel said in an interview. “I really believe we should have more candidates, more than two old white men.”

Party leaders overwhelmingly plan to back Mr. Biden if he runs. But recent polls show that while many Democratic voters view him favorably, they also have reservations about another candidate. An Associated Press/NORC poll released Friday found respondents were concerned about his age.

Other polls show that older Democratic voters are more likely to support a new bid for Biden than younger Democrats, although roughly 30 to 50 percent of Democrats over 60 favor him retiring.

“I can’t go on TV and say, ‘Let’s not talk about this, let’s go to the real issues,’ because people think age is a real issue,” James Carville, 78, the Democratic strategist, said last month. party.

That was what mattered most to several people walking around a community center recently when a game of canasta ended in Plantation, Florida.

Doreen W., 78, a Democrat who declined to share her last name on the record, citing fear of causing trouble for her husband at work, said she hoped Mr. Biden would run again. But she worried if he was capable of it.

“I know how tiring it is for me and I do nothing but retire,” she said. “I’m aware of his age and I’m concerned about that.”

Informed that Mr. Biden was not 78, as she thought, but 80, she moaned, “Oh my God.”

“If I could keep him 80 years old and active as he is, I would be more than happy,” she said.

Nursing a canasta defeat nearby, Jacques Duzer, 67, said the way Mr Biden walked sometimes reminded her of her late husband, who had dementia.

“It looks like he’s going to fall,” said Ms. Dueser, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, supported Mr. Biden in 2020 and is inclined to back him again if Mr. Trump or Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida wins the Republican nomination.

Mr. Biden’s doctor recently reported that he is a “healthy, vigorous 80-year-old” fit to serve, while acknowledging that Mr. Biden has a “stiff gait,” citing factors including arthritis. But the doctor said there were no findings “consistent with any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder.”

Mr. Biden exercises at least five days a week and does not drink or smoke, and his recent travel, including a secret trip to Ukraine, has impressed some of his peers.

“I don’t know if I could stand up going to Ukraine and traveling 10 hours by train,” said Peggy Grove, 80, vice chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

But his public appearances are uneven. Although Mr. Biden has long been prone to blunders, he has made several glaring misstatements as president and can sound hesitant. Moments like tripping down a flight of stairs or falling off a bike attract attention.

“I enjoyed working with him. Now I’m watching it from a distance and I’m worried,” said former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, 76, a self-described non-Trump Republican. “He’s lost a bit of his edge.”

The White House did not respond directly to Mr. Gregg.

Several voters said Mr. Biden’s vice presidential nominee would be important — and many Democrats expressed private concerns about Vice President Kamala Harris.

But while health is unpredictable, some aging experts said there were signs that Mr. Biden might be “super old.”

Dr. John W. Rowe, past president of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics and professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University, said the “super-elderly” tend to live more of their lives without functional impairment.

Dr. Rowe also said that age can bring unexpected benefits.

Older people, he said, are often better at resolving disputes and “are less likely to do something unwise.”

“If you have, on the one hand, a super-senior, with no obvious evidence of anything bad going on right now, and they carry with them these other characteristics, I’d feel pretty comfortable over the next four years,” he said, adding that does not know Mr. Biden.

Dr. Rowe, 78, a former Aetna executive, said he also encountered the occasional question about retirement.

“I don’t feel like I’m functioning any less well than I was a few years ago,” he said.

He emphasized that unlike 30-year-olds, older people vary widely in their abilities.

Some Democrats pointed to the differences in aging between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Reagan, who announced in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s disease and died a decade later at age 93, had long faced questions about his cognitive functioning. Mr Carter – now in hospice at 98 – remained active until recently.

“I just try to always look at the individual, taking age into account as one of the many considerations,” said women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem, 89. “For me, the retrieval time is longer, but the choice of what to retrieve is more -rich .”

As for Mr. Biden, she said: “I feel good about President Biden being re-elected, depending on both the alternatives and his health.”

Mr. Biden and his allies have highlighted his legislative achievements, including on issues affecting older Americans.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Biden had inherited and helped the country overcome “the worst crises in decades” and was “now bringing manufacturing back from overseas, rebuilding our infrastructure, enabling Medicare to cut drug prices and stand up for the rights and dignity of every American. He highlighted Mr. Biden’s experience, judgment and values ​​in office.

At a recent gathering of Broward’s Senior Democrats Caucus at a Plantation pub, attendees dismissed concerns about Mr. Biden’s age.

“If his head works, he’s fine,” Muriel Kirchner, 94, pointedly told a reporter. “My head is still working, dear.”

Patti Lynn, who will turn 80 this year, retired after a heart attack, deciding it was “time to have some fun.” But Ms Lin, whose phone background was a picture of herself with Mr Biden, did not think he should do the same just yet.

“Does he trip and forget and have to pick up his words?” I understand that perfectly,” she laughed. “Where you go, I go back. Oh, well, I’m having a senior moment. But he’s respected around the world, he’s stable.”

“How do you destroy it because it’s old?” she added. “He’s worked hard to get that old. Me too. I worked hard to get that old.”

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