By Mark Rhoads -
When does age matter for a candidate and when does the Grand Old Party get too old? I think the age of a candidate matters only when it is a factor in practical considerations as to filling the needs of an office.
Recently Sen. Dick Lugar lost the Indiana primary for a variety of reasons in part because of his age at 80, his long tenure, and the fact that he had spent so little time in Indiana in recent years. When I first met former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson 25 years ago, I instantly liked him both for his personality and his conservatism when he was in his prime. I still like him. But if I were a voter in Wisconsin, I doubt I would want to see Tommy win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senator in the coming primary election on August 14.
I have no doubt that Tommy Thompson would build up a conservative voting record in the Senate. But so would some of his primary competitors such as financial planner and banker Eric Hovde (age 48) or former Congressman Mark Neumann (age 58). Tommy Thompson is the only four-term governor in the history of Wisconsin and his likable personality has made him very popular in the state. But Thompson is now 70 years old and he is running for a freshman seat in a legislative body that revolves around seniority. It will take him the next ten years at least, to age 80, to even start to get good committee assignments that go with seniority. The Senate seat should not be the gold watch at the end of a politician's career, instead it should be a place to start a time of building a record in the Senate and that means that a younger candidate makes more sense in my opinion. Tommy Thompson had 16 years as governor and also served four years as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the cabinet of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. That was the gold watch. The point is that Tommy Thompson has made a good contribution to public service in Wisconsin already since he started as a state lawmaker in 1966. But there comes a time when very senior GOP leaders should pass the baton to younger conservatives before the primary voters do it for them. Sen. Lugar had to learn that lesson the hard way. Sen. Hatch won his term to stay to age 86 but to what point? Hatch has not been an effective conservative for many years.
The Republican Party is not very welcoming to candidates under the age of 50 and that coolness is sensed by younger voters. The fact that very senior officials hang on so long is one reason why younger voters lack enthusiam for the GOP. Time and tide wait for no man.