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 WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter The Hill's Morning Report - Trump lays low as approval hits 18-month low MORE (Mass.) will enter her 70s in June. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mount Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' MORE (I-Vt.) is 77. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump hits 'radical left,' news media, China in Independence Day address Kaepernick on July Fourth: 'We reject your celebration of white supremacy' Jaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham 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 HarrisJaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Senators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter MORE (Calif.), a freshman in the Senate, is 54. Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Joe Biden must release the results of his cognitive tests — voters need to know GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE of New Jersey is 49, while Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar MORE is 51. 

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has sparkled as a challenger to GOP Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech 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 TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address 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 ClintonDemocrats try to turn now into November The Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump On The Trail: Trump, coronavirus fuel unprecedented voter enthusiasm 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."