The New York Times reports that voter mobilization groups are running an attack ad on TV that highlights Senator John McCain’s battles with cancer:
Two liberal groups – one of them directed by a brother of the Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean – will begin running a graphic attack advertisement Thursday morning raising questions about Senator John McCain’s health. Showing vivid and unflattering images of the fresh scar that appeared on Senator McCain’s face immediately after his last operation for melanoma skin cancer eight years ago, the commercial ends with a screen headline that reads, “Why won’t John McCain release his medical records?” (Mr. McCain, 72, did invite a limited group of reporters to inspect more than 1,100 pages of his medical records in May, though he gave them only a three-hour window in which to review the documents.)
The ad is unusual not only because of the delicate subject of McCain’s health, but because ads from voter mobilization groups usually focus on more conventional topics such as a candidate’s stand on policies or past conduct. The ad highlighting age and health concerns about McCain could scare voters into voting a certain way or it could spark a backlash.
Look what happened during the second presidential debate between President Ronald Reagan, then 73 years old, and Walter Mondale, then 56, when a reporter raised the same issue :
REPORTER: Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for two or three weeks, and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest President in history, and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall, yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?
REAGAN: Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience. If I still have time, I might add, Mr. Trewhitt, I might add that it was Seneca or it was Cicero, I don’t know which, that said if it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.
That was the moment the 1984 campaign ended. Reagan carried 49 states and 58.8% of the popular vote.
The two political actions committees, or PACs, responsible for the anti-McCain ad are Brave New PAC and Howard Dean’s Democracy for America. Brave New PAC appears to be tiny. In the current election cycle it has raised $5,087, spent $324, and reported cash on hand of zero.
In the same period, Democracy for America has raised $3,003,750, spent $3,284,215, and reported cash on hand of $1,100,741.