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Will Democrats Try to Turn the Tables on Trump’s Age?
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Will Democrats Try to Turn the Tables on Trump’s Age?

Plus: Kari Lake threatens to clear the GOP field in Arizona.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump on May 2, 2023 in Turnberry, Scotland. (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)

Happy Friday! And a happy belated Star Wars Day to everybody except California Rep. Adam Schiff

Up to Speed

  • Florida’s legislative session concludes today, clearing the path for Gov. Ron DeSantis to launch his campaign for president in the coming weeks. In the closing days of the session, the legislature passed several bills designed to smooth the governor’s campaign path, including one that would eliminate Florida’s “resign to run” law and another that would shield the governor’s travel records from public disclosure. DeSantis has yet to sign either bill into law.
  • Two-term Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said in a video announcement Thursday that he will run for reelection in 2024—good news for Senate Democrats, as they defend a host of incumbent seats this cycle.
  • Democratic Rep. David Trone, co-founder of Total Wine and More, filed paperwork to run for retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin’s seat in 2024. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks is also widely expected to announce a bid, and Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin—the manager for former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment—told TIME this week he will use this month to decide whether to run. Raskin is the ranking Democrat on House Oversight who announced last week that he is in remission after undergoing chemotherapy for large B-cell lymphoma.
  • Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio “for years claimed an owner-occupancy tax credit at two properties, public records show—a potential violation of the state’s rules governing such incentives,” NBC’s Henry Gomez reports. Brown and his wife “also were late paying the tax bill on their Cleveland house at least seven times since purchasing it in 2013” and at one point Cuyahoga County labeled them “delinquent.” Brown is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents this cycle.

Democrats Toy With Targeting Trump’s Age, Too

As Democrats navigate questions about Joe Biden’s age, some party strategists are preparing to remind voters Donald Trump is an old man, too. And in their telling, the current Republican frontrunner is remarkably less vibrant than the globetrotting incumbent president.

“Joe Biden is traveling the world, risking his life in war zones,” a senior Democratic strategist told The Dispatch. Meanwhile, the strategist added, an overweight Trump is “selling NFTs to Proud Boys from his gold, spray-painted couch.”

“It’s not just age, it’s presentation,” another Democratic operative added. “Elections are a choice, and about the future. In this case, the choice is between stability and a known future of chaos. It’s not just that Trump is old, it’s that he’s old and voters now know all the baggage that comes with him. That combination can be fatal.”

Top Democrats are less brazen on the record, taking cues from Biden himself, who said of voters’ concerns about his age during a recent White House news conference: “They’re going to see a race and they’re going to judge whether or not I have it or don’t have it. I respect them taking a hard look.” 

Trump will be 77 in June while Biden, already the oldest sitting president, will turn 81 in November. If reelected, Biden would be 86 at the end of his second term, while Trump would be 82.

Democratic insiders concede voters will judge Biden for his age, but his campaign is trying to portray him as mentally and physically fit by talking up his travel schedule and legislative accomplishments. Democrats are also dropping hints that Trump could face similar age questions and doesn’t deserve a pass.

“The health debate does cut both ways,” a Democratic insider said. “The fact is, you could make a case that every time Trump opens his mouth, he’s delusional.” 

In a statement provided to The Dispatch Thursday, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung suggested Democrats are entertaining attacks on the former president’s age to avoid discussing Biden’s governing record. Notably, the statement did not directly address the issue of Trump’s age nor launch an explicit attack on the incumbent’s age. 

“Democrats know they can’t run on the economy, which Biden has devastated, or on their crazed policies. So Democrats are now throwing Joe Biden under the bus because even they know President Trump is leading by wide margins in poll after poll,” Cheung said. “There is nobody else who can generate the type of enthusiasm and excitement like President Trump can.”

Thus far, Republicans generally are far more likely than Democrats to raise age as an issue in the presidential campaign. 

GOP politicians regularly cast doubt on Biden’s cognitive and physical abilities—issues many voters express concern about, polls show. Nikki Haley, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor seeking the GOP presidential nomination, has called for mental competency tests for candidates and lawmakers 75 and older. But she has downplayed the implications of her proposal vis-a-vis Trump, and focused mainly on Biden.

“Here you have Biden last week, he didn’t even know where he was the week before, a little child had to tell him that. He doesn’t even know how many grandchildren he has,” Haley wrote in an op-ed for Fox News.

Democrats still think they’ve got plenty else to work with on Trump—his refusal to concede the 2020 election and role in inciting the January 6 Capitol riot, his handling of the pandemic, his opposition to abortion access, his current and looming indictments. Yet it’s also true that many Democratic strategists and elected officials are leery of hitting Trump on age because it will put a brighter spotlight on Biden.

“The age issue is not what I’m really thinking about, about either of them,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat up for reelection in 2024. “I’m more thinking about their character and whether they reflect what I think are the best values of the country.”

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the party’s Senate campaign chief, sidestepped a question about Trump’s age altogether, saying simply that Biden is “active” and “healthy” and that “people should just focus on what he’s been able to do and what he will continue to do.”

Neither the White House nor the Biden campaign responded to a request for a comment. 

MAGA Hardliner Kari Lake Inches Toward Arizona Senate Bid

Kari Lake hasn’t officially declared, but it sure looks like the Arizona Republican is going to run for U.S. Senate in 2024. 

The former TV news anchor has been doing public events, her advisers have been trumpeting her hypothetical poll numbers and, on Wednesday, she announced she’s publishing a book. Lake’s spokesman Colton Duncan told The Dispatch he’s “99 percent sure” she’s going to enter the race for independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat.

Without Lake—an election-denying, sharp-elbowed MAGA acolyte who narrowly lost the governor’s race to Democrat Katie Hobbs last year—the GOP Senate primary would likely be crowded. With her in it, the primary could already be over.

“If she gets in, she will likely be the nominee,” one Arizona Republican strategist told The Dispatch. “I don’t see anyone else getting in who would be able to really overtake her.”

Former Senate candidate Blake Masters, who failed to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly last year, has been mulling a run—but would likely pass if Lake got in, according to two sources familiar with his thinking. And several Republican strategists tell The Dispatch that Karrin Taylor Robson, whom Lake defeated in the GOP gubernatorial primary, seems uninterested. 

Taylor Robson “never really had her heart in it,” GOP strategist Barrett Marson said. “She wants to be governor.”

Republican consultant Jon Seaton, an adviser on Taylor Robson’s gubernatorial campaign who remains close to her, said “she hasn’t made any decisions.” And Masters told The Dispatch that “Any decision I might make to run for any office in the future will depend upon a number of factors, not just one person.”

Another significant candidate is already in the race: Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County. Lamb and Lake are friendly, having regularly appeared on the campaign trail together last cycle. Both are hardliners on issues from immigration to COVID policy, and both are charismatic candidates with plenty of experience on TV. While Lake quadruples down on phony stolen-election claims—she still maintains not only that Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden in 2020, but that she beat Hobbs in 2022—Lamb has backed away from such rhetoric in recent months.

Still, Lake, a gifted candidate with a national brand and near-universal name ID among state Republicans, would enter that head-to-head matchup as the favorite. Lamb, a first-time candidate, has law enforcement experience Lake lacks, but isn’t yet known to many voters. In a state where three quarters of the population lives in two counties—Maricopa and Pima—Lamb is launching from the smaller (but fast-growing) Pinal County.

If Lake wins the primary, she will likely face staunch progressive Democrat Ruben Gallego in the general election. Whether Sinema, who left the Democratic Party last year December, will attempt to defend her seat as an independent remains to be seen—although it’s notable that the normally reclusive senator has been ratcheting up the interviews lately, and the Wall Street Journal reported last month that she and her staff continue to lay the groundwork for another run.

Either configuration of the race—Lake vs. Gallego, or Lake vs. Gallego vs. Sinema—would make for a striking contest in Arizona, a 50-50 purple state where statewide contests were once more likely to pit a moderate Democrat against a moderate Republican. 

“Neither [Gallego nor Lake] are at first blush attractive candidates to anyone who’s not a hard partisan,” the Arizona Republican strategist told The Dispatch. “So there’ll be a lot of people in play.”

Eyes on the Trail

  • Do Democrats have a plan for Feinstein? As we reported in this newsletter on Wednesday, retiring Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s timeline for returning to Washington remains unclear. Feinstein, who is still at home in California recovering from shingles, released a statement on Thursday that “there has been no slowdown” in judicial confirmations due to her roughly two-month absence and that she’s “confident that when I return to the Senate, we will be able to move the remaining qualified nominees out of committee quickly and to the Senate floor”—though she declined to say when that might be.
  • The Wisconsin Whale: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled Saturday to headline the annual Marathon County Republican Party Lincoln Day fundraising dinner—and it has attracted more interest from local, grassroots Republicans than any similar gathering in recent memory. Possibly ever, Marathon County GOP Chairman Kevin Hermening told The Dispatch by telephone Thursday. The event typically draws 200 to 250 people and is held in a large restaurant. But after Rep. Tom Tiffany recruited DeSantis to keynote this year’s dinner, tickets quickly sold out—568 to be exact, ranging from $75 to $125 each and including 30 “host” tables sold for $1,000 each. The high demand forced Hermening to move the fundraiser to a much larger venue, the Central Wisconsin Convention and Expo Center. “We’re very excited,” he said.

Notable and Quotable

“For those that say ‘Enough of Newsom making these picks,’ I get it, I’m with you. I understand. It’s just the nature of what it is, and I’m not going to abdicate that responsibility. … But again, I hope I never have to.”

—California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, May 3, on the possibility of appointing a replacement for retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein should she resign before her term ends in January 2025

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.