Republican Richard Lugar, who recently turned 80 and is the longest-serving Senator in Indiana history, is facing a serious re-election challenge from within his own party this year. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., is, at 82, expecting a tough run in the general election this fall. And at 78, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will have to weather opposition in the GOP primary if he’s to earn a seventh term.
What’s remarkable about the three candidates is not just their status as longtime incumbents in danger of losing their seats. It’s that their ages are barely registering as campaign issues.
Lugar, a moderate Republican, is under fire from conservatives, and he’s also been criticized for not owning a home in Indiana since 1977. Tea Party supporters are painting Hatch as out of touch with their values despite his longstanding bona fides as a conservative. And a newly drawn congressional district map presents Slaughter with one of the most competitive contests of her 13 terms.
Back home, voters might complain about job performance or ideology, but they don’t tend to focus on age. Then again, age generally seems to be a non-issue in Congress, too.
Four sitting senators are octogenarians (at 88, Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is the oldest), and another 22 are in their 70s. Forty-five are at least 65, a common retirement age in many professions.
A dozen House members are in their 80s; 43 are in their 70s; and 108 – more than a quarter overall – are over 65.
And while the so-called youth vote helped propel Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, it’s been a boost for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. And Paul is 76.
That’s one thing I really like about working in Washington. It’s a rare place where lots of professionals hit their stride in their 70s. – Susan Milligan