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Inside Politics

With McCain, 72 is the new... 69?

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just how old is John McCain?

The senior senator from Arizona, who turned 70 Tuesday, is quick to describe himself as being "older than dirt" and having "more scars than Frankenstein."

But with an all-but-certain presidential campaign on the horizon, it's a question he and his political advisers know will be asked more than once over the next two years.

No man has ever reached the presidency in his 70s. Ronald Reagan, the oldest man to become president, was 69 years, 349 days old when he was inaugurated in 1981. If elected president in 2008, McCain would be 72 years and 144 days old on Inauguration Day 2009.

But with everyone declaring 60 the new 40, who's to say a septuagenarian can't become president?

In fact, skillful politicians have been able to turn the issue to their advantage with a little self-deprecating humor. The best example is when Reagan, during a 1984 debate with Walter Mondale, used the unforgettable quip "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."

In McCain's case, he acts more like a Gen X-er than a man from the "Silent Generation." He had a cameo in Vince Vaughn's and Owen Wilson's hit movie "The Wedding Crashers," has hosted Saturday Night Live and, as reported in The New York Times, engaged in a vodka drinking contest with Sen. Hillary Clinton, his potential opponent in the 2008 general election, during a visit to Estonia.

"I like to think I have a lot of stamina, but he leaves me in the dust," said fellow Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

But it's unlikely that McCain will be able to dodge questions about his health. The government says that anyone McCain's age faces higher risks: Almost 88 percent of those over 65 have at least one chronic health condition, and one in four older Americans suffer from a decline in cognitive health.

Furthermore, McCain's personal history adds to the challenge. He has had multiple bouts with skin cancer, and has had invasive surgery to remove it. He also suffers from injuries sustained while he was held as a POW in a Vietnamese prison camp, but as his vigorous barnstorming for President Bush in 2004 and his recent campaign trips for Republican candidates show, his health has not held him back.

Six years ago, McCain released 1,500 pages of medical records in an effort to prove he was physically and psychologically fit to be president, and, aides said, he is prepared to do that again. Aides also said that the senator gets a checkup every three months, and as of now, he's cancer free.

"Part of the campaign strategy will be to put out the health records, probably have a more aggressive schedule going to doctors, but open up the book and show everything," said Republican strategist Scott Reed.

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If elected president in 2008, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, will be 72 when he takes office.

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