Is Hillary Clinton Too Old to Run?

Entering a presidential race is effectively a nine-year commitment: one year to run, another eight if she runs for reelection and wins.

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton joins Melinda Gates in a discussion at New York University and moderated by Chelsea Clinton concerning the use of data to advance the global progress for women and girls on February 13, 2014 in New York City.
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Charlie Cook
Feb. 14, 2014, midnight

At least every week now, there is a new story sup­port­ing the nar­rat­ive of an in­ev­it­able 2016 Hil­lary Clin­ton pres­id­en­tial bid. In­deed, the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is that it is an ab­so­lute cer­tainty that she will run. If any­one is cur­rently say­ing, flat out, that Hil­lary isn’t run­ning, I haven’t come across them. Is the in­ev­it­ab­il­ity of her run really as cer­tain as the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom sug­gests, and fur­ther, is it un­fold­ing in an op­tim­al man­ner for the po­ten­tial can­did­ate?

In all like­li­hood, Clin­ton will not make a fi­nal, “go-or-no-go” de­cision un­til early next year, after the dust has settled from the midterm elec­tion. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, few pres­id­en­tial con­tenders make their fi­nal de­cisions be­fore the pre­ced­ing midterm, and, with the not­able ex­cep­tion of Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, most have been lay­ing the ground­work for a long time for a po­ten­tial run. Most have already been at­tend­ing count­less state and county Jef­fer­son-Jack­son (for Demo­crats) or Lin­coln (for Re­pub­lic­ans) din­ners, meet and greets, and oth­er events to pre­pare for the po­ten­tial cam­paign and the en­sur­ing shake­down (if they do, in fact, de­cide to run).

The ques­tion re­mains: Is Hil­lary Clin­ton really a 100 per­cent lock to run? I think it is a pretty good bet, maybe 70 per­cent chance or so; but that also means there is an ap­prox­im­ately 30 per­cent chance that she doesn’t throw her hat in the ring. The cur­rent polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment cer­tainly ar­gues on be­half of a Clin­ton run, and it would be very dif­fi­cult — but not im­possible — for any­one to beat her for the nom­in­a­tion. However, these choices can nev­er be con­sidered 100 per­cent polit­ic­al de­cisions. Clin­ton turns 67 this Oc­to­ber. At that age, she will likely be mak­ing her can­did­acy de­cision, and if nom­in­ated Clin­ton would turn 69 two weeks be­fore the 2016 gen­er­al elec­tion, not­ably the same age Ron­ald Re­agan was when he was first elec­ted in 1980. The choice to run for pres­id­ent is ef­fect­ively a nine-year com­mit­ment: one year to run, an­oth­er four years if she wins a first term — fin­ish­ing up that term at age 73 — and then, as­sum­ing she runs for reelec­tion and wins, serving four more years to end a second term at 77 years of age. None of this is to say that the age is­sue could suc­cess­fully be used against her. After all, Re­agan won the pres­id­ency at the same age. But how many 67-year-olds make nine-year com­mit­ments, and what con­cerns have to be ad­dressed if they do?

Ac­cord­ing to The At­lantic, dur­ing her ten­ure as sec­ret­ary of State, Clin­ton traveled for 401 days to 112 coun­tries, total­ing 956,733 miles, a dis­tance equal to more than 38 times around the globe; wags have taken to call­ing it “odo­met­er dip­lomacy.” But also worth not­ing is how in Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton’s last year at her post, par­tic­u­larly the last few months at the State De­part­ment, the po­s­i­tion clearly took a toll on her health; she ex­per­i­enced an epis­ode of faint­ing or passing out, and suffered a head in­jury. None of this ne­ces­sar­ily is to ar­gue against her run­ning, but she would be un­der­tak­ing something that, as she well knows, is con­sid­er­ably more phys­ic­ally de­mand­ing even than her pre­vi­ous po­s­i­tion, and at an older age. This is not ne­ces­sar­ily an end-all-be-all ar­gu­ment that she should or would not run, simply that she likely would have to think long and hard as to wheth­er she is phys­ic­ally up to the rig­ors of run­ning and serving in of­fice. Hav­ing run for pres­id­ent once be­fore, and en­dur­ing two pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns and terms as a spouse, no one un­der­stands more clearly than Hil­lary does what the po­s­i­tion de­mands. Do all of the people who say that she ab­so­lutely will run know and ap­pre­ci­ate this as much as she ob­vi­ously does?

A law school friend of the Clin­tons’ put it to me this way to me last year: “If Bill and Hil­lary are healthy, she will run,” a subtle re­mind­er to me that her hus­band will be 70 by Elec­tion Day 2016, hav­ing already gone through quad­ruple car­di­ac by­pass sur­gery and two heart stents. He looks healthy, as she now does, but it does re­mind us that these are team ef­forts, and how they both are do­ing is rel­ev­ant to the equa­tion. When the 30 per­cent gues­tim­ate of her chance of passing up a race was run by a former seni­or Clin­ton staffer, the re­sponse was something to the ef­fect of, “That sounds about right.”

As­sum­ing that she does run, Clin­ton would ob­vi­ously be a for­mid­able can­did­ate, start­ing out with total name re­cog­ni­tion and an abil­ity to raise more than enough to fund a big-time cam­paign. There would ab­so­lutely be many chal­lenges along the road for Hil­lary. For one, the chal­lenge of a 68-go­ing-on-69-year-old go­ing after a con­sid­er­ably young­er elect­or­ate, par­tic­u­larly in the primar­ies, and how to make her­self more rel­ev­ant to the fu­ture, rather than to the past. Run­ning on how great the eco­nomy was in the mid-to-late ‘90s, when her hus­band was pres­id­ent, would be tan­tamount to a se­quel of Back to the Fu­ture. Clin­ton needs to lay out a ra­tionale for her rel­ev­ance to the fu­ture elect­or­ate of a rap­idly chan­ging coun­try. Not that she can’t do it, but it would be a dif­fer­ent battle than that of 2008.

Fi­nally, don’t ex­pect that Hil­lary would have a free ride for the nom­in­a­tion. New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo pre­sum­ably wouldn’t run if she does. Sim­il­arly, it would seem un­likely that an­oth­er ma­jor wo­man like Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand, Amy Klobuchar, or Eliza­beth War­ren would make the race either. But there’s Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden, and one could eas­ily see former Govs. Howard Dean of Ver­mont and/or Bri­an Sch­weitzer of Montana de­cide to take a stab at it. For that mat­ter, Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Mal­ley might get in the race, just as an Arkan­sas gov­ernor named Bill Clin­ton took a gamble get­ting in­to the race in 1991, par­tic­u­larly when many ex­pec­ted New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and oth­er big names to get in and dom­in­ate the race. Ex­pect­a­tions for O’Mal­ley against Clin­ton would be low; he could end up with a cab­in­et job, and, who knows, she might fal­ter along the way. Stranger things have happened.

And if HRod doesn’t run, Katie bar the door, we would be look­ing at a huge field of Demo­crats.


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