Age becomes talking point surrounding 2020 Democratic field

Age becomes talking point surrounding 2020 Democratic field
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It's a question some Democrats are pondering as the 2020 presidential election inches closer: Can their party represent change when three of its top candidates are not only familiar faces, but people in their retirement years? 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (Mass.) will enter her 70s in June. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries The hidden connection between immigration and health care: Our long-term care crisis Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE (I-Vt.) is 77. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Sanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE will turn 76 later this month. 

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Though the primaries are still a ways off, all three have emerged in early polls as favorites to be the 2020 Democratic nominee. 

Some strategists say that might be a problem.

“Democrats would be better off with a young candidate,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who argued that an electorate that seems to want change might prefer someone from a younger generation. 

He put it as a generational battle, this time between baby boomers and millennials. 

“The desire for change is a function of a battle between an ascending generation, the millennials who want political power, and a descending generation, the baby boomers, who have the power but don't want to give it up,” he said.

There are certainly a number of candidates ready to step up if Democratic voters are looking for a younger nominee. 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (Calif.), a freshman in the Senate, is 54. Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Schumer throws support behind bill to study reparations MORE of New Jersey is 49, while Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet 'Game of Thrones' scores record-breaking 32 Emmy nominations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE is 51. 

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has sparkled as a challenger to GOP Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGoogle official denies allegations of ties to China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Cruz in 2016 said 'something fundamentally wrong' with Christians who back Trump: book MORE and become a liberal fundraising force, is 46. 

None of those candidates would qualify as millennials, but they are from a different generation than the trio at the top of the Democratic polls.

Earlier this year, Biden — who allies suggest may consider running for one term only — acknowledged that age is a “legitimate” issue for presidential candidates.

“I think it’s totally appropriate for people to look at me and say if I were to run for office again, ‘Well, God darn you’re old.’ Well, chronologically, I am old,” Biden said during a question and answer session at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan’s Speakers Series last month, according to CNN. 

“Every voter is entitled to know exactly what kind of shape you’re in. You owe it to them. It’s a legitimate question and so I think age is relevant.” 

But some Democrats say the 2020 election won't be so much about age at all, particularly when Democrats will be competing to take on the 72-year-old President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE

“To me, it's less about years of age and more about the age of your ideas and whether your ideas reflect what voters want to hear,” said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist.

Still, he said that could be a problem for some candidates.

“The challenge with candidates like Sanders and Biden is that they've been around so long. Anytime a party is out of office it is attracted to a newer, bolder message.” 

Democratic strategist Maria Cardona said she doesn’t think the age of some would-be candidates is problematic for the party. 

Cardona pointed to 2016, when Sanders was “able to attract a massive following of young people,” and nearly beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE in the Democratic primary. 

Sanders was able to tap into a sentiment that Clinton represented the tired Washington establishment, and he positively electrified swaths of young voters. 

During that race, the Vermont senator lured millennials to the race by talking about issues such as free public college, single-payer health care and campaign finance reform. 

A survey conducted in early 2016 by pollster Frank Luntz showed that young voters selected Sanders when asked which politician they respected the most. Sanders even beat former President Obama, who at 57 is 20 years his junior, 31 percent to 18 percent, according to the poll.  

“I think what’s important more than age is for the candidates to authentically speak to and make a connection with voters in every state and in every community and offer a platform of new ideas and real solutions for the problems the country is facing,” Cardona said. 

Kofinis said that whoever wins will need to run a nimble, 21st century campaign that doesn’t rely on a playbook from previous years. 

“It’s not going to be the age of the candidate but the age of their ideas and the age of their actual campaign,” he said. 

One Democratic strategist said Warren’s recent release of her DNA test results fell into that category, “because it wasn’t anything a modern campaign would do. It was so incredibly reactive and pissed off so many Democrats.” 

“If you didn’t understand how bad of an idea that was, you’ll probably be on a losing campaign,” the strategist said. 

Much of what happens in the 2020 race is dependent on what happens in Tuesday’s midterms, strategists said. 

If Democrats take over the House, strategists predict the party will look a lot younger and more diverse and age will be nothing but a number. 

“If and when we take over the House on Tuesday, there will be a whole new generation of Democrats in Congress as well as across state legislatures around the country,” Cardona said. “They will be more female, young, diverse, and beautifully reflective of the country we live in today."