This will be oldest presidential race in US history

In a country obsessed with the cult of youth, the battle for the White House is ironically coming down to a contest between a grandmother and a grandfather as Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump fight it out for the top job, having edged out much younger rivals.

Grey power looks set to triumph — even if both candidates have chosen to sport copious blonde locks.

But the course ahead will be mined with challenges for 68-year-old Clinton and 69- year-old Trump as they head into the gruelling final lap that will demand huge reserves of physical and political stamina.

While many Americans of their generation will be relaxing poolside with martinis, presumptive nominees Clinton and Trump will be facing non-stop campaigning across 50 US states and Machiavellian manoeuvring within their parties at nominating conventions in July.

Indeed, if both candidates clinch their parties’ respective nominations as they are poised to do, the contest would be the oldest match-up in a White House race.

If Trump goes on to win the November general election he will be 70 by then and if Clinton wins she will be 69.

Trump would break the record for the oldest person ever inaugurated as US president, if he were to win.

He would be 70 years and seven months, topping Ronald Reagan by six months. 

Reagan was re-elected at 74 and was 78 when he left office. 

Clinton will not be 70 until October 2017, nine months after Inauguration Day on January 20, 2017.

Ireland, of course, is used to elderly presidents. Michael D Higgins is now 75.

Éamon de Valera was 83 when he was reelected and was 90 when he retired from office in 1973, two years before he died.

But in modern times Americans are far more likely to elect younger men — and so far all of them have been men — to the presidency.

A person must be at least 35 to be a candidate for the White House.

John F. Kennedy was sworn into office at 43 but the youngest-ever occupant was Teddy Roosevelt who was 42 when he became president after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.

A younger candidate can certainly generate a sense of excitement, fuelled by optimism and a yearning for new solutions and horizons. 

Thus, Kennedy’s short-lived presidency enjoyed the aura of Camelot, while almost 50 years later, in a surge of hope and history, Americans triumphed over decades of racial cruelty to elect 47- year-od Barack Obama as their first black president.

But youth and optimism go only so far in politics and can quickly fade unless a candidate has policies that appeal to enough people.

Thus, Trump has attracted armies of supporters by touting nativist politics infused with large doses of demagoguery and intolerance and is now the oldest candidate left standing from an original field of 17 younger rivals.

On the Democratic side, the telegenic former Maryland governor 53-year-od Martin O’Malley entered the race full of Kennedy-esque optimism but was unable to last the course very long in the face of the more experienced — and much older rivals – Hillary Clinton and 74-year-old Bernie Sanders.

Trump, who has eight grandchildren, is not afraid to bring up the age issue, though in the process he seems to forget he’s actually a year older than Clinton, who’s about to become a grandmother for the second time.

“Hillary is a person who doesn’t have the strength or the stamina, in my opinion, to be president,” Trump has said.

Clinton, however, has embraced the age issue by highlighting her role both as a grandmother and a seasoned Washington veteran and she certainly exhibited stamina last year during a marathon 11-hour grilling before a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of state.

Both candidates have also shown huge reserves of stamina in their long march through the primary contests around the country.

But age, as Clinton for one knows, often at her peril, also comes with something else that’s crucially important in US politics — the capacity to build a political war chest, without which it’s tough to get elected.

And in Trump’s case he’s already been around long enough to amass a personal fortune.

It also helps that Clinton and Trump have been around New York long enough to attract favours and friends in a city where the lives of the rich and powerful are intertwined.

Trump, for example, once donated to Hillary Clinton’s successful campaign to become a senator for New York in 2000, while Clinton and her husband, Bill, attended Trump’s third wedding in 2005.

Both Clinton and Trump have released medical records showing that they are fit to serve as commander in chief.

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says American women are now expected to live 81.2 years compared with 76.4 years for men.

So it seems Trump had better watch out because even if he wins the race this time round, Clinton could well bounce back for another challenge.

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