Tales from the Trail

Republicans, again, look to older White House candidates

December 6, 2011

If presidential candidates, like fine wine, improve with age, the 2012 Republican field is in luck.  The top three contenders — Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — would each be one of the oldest U.S. presidents ever if he were to defeat Barack Obama and win the White House in 2012.

Gingrich, who currently leads the Republican pack, would be 69 years and 7 months old on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2013. That would make him the second-oldest first-term U.S. president, just behind Ronald Reagan, who was 69 years and 11 months old when he first took the oath of office in January 1981.

Romney is a bit younger than Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House in the 1990s. But, at 65 years and 10 months old on Jan. 20, 2013, Romney would be tied for third place in the presidential age stakes, after Reagan and William Henry Harrison. James Buchanan, the 15th U.S. president, was 65 years, 10 months and 9 days old when he was sworn in on March 4, 1857, the same age that Romney would be.

Harrison, the ninth U.S. president, was 68 years and 23 days old when he became president.  And while Reagan exuded health and vitality — many Americans remember him on horseback — Harrison, who died after just 32 days in office, was hardly an endorsement for an older chief executive, with the caveat that he served in 1841, long before the age of modern medicine.

The former brigadier general’s death was attributed to complications from pneumonia, blamed on his delivering the longest inaugural address in U.S. history on a cold and wet day, wearing neither overcoat nor hat.

Ron Paul, who now places third in national polls of contenders for the Republican nomination, would be the oldest U.S. president, by far, if elected. The Texas congressman, now winning about 8 percent support in national polls of the GOP hopefuls, would be 77 years and five months old on Jan. 20, 2013.

If the field holds and one of the current front-runners becomes the nominee, he’d join several other recent GOP contenders in the older-candidate stakes. George W. Bush was 54 when he became president in 2001, but Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee, would have been 73, and Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, was 64 when he was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1989. Senator John McCain, the 2008 nominee, was 72 on Inauguration Day 2009, which would have made him the oldest first-term U.S. president if he had beaten Obama.

Obama was one of the youngest first-term presidents ever, aged 47 years and 169 days on Inauguration Day 2009.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Chris Keane

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