The following from ABC News caught my eye:
The best news for the 2008 presidential candidates is that none of them is a 72-year-old twice-divorced cigarette smoker. But even by itself, each one of those attributes is a significant potential pitfall in the coming campaign.
Being a Mormon is a hurdle as well, while this ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that two other widely noted attributes of current candidates — being a woman and being an African-American — have no net negative impact on voter preferences.
Among all these, age stands out. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who’s over 72; just 3 percent would be more apt to back someone that age. John McCain turns 72 in August 2008, three years older than Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected president in November 1980.
Next on the list are being a Mormon (as is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney), with 29 percent less likely to vote for one; being twice-divorced (Rudy Giuliani), with 26 percent calling that an impediment; and being a smoker (Barack Obama is trying to quit), a negative for 21 percent.
I’ve seen polling on 72-year-old and thrice-married candidates before (and in each other instance, I should add, objections to the latter were larger than those to a Mormon candidate). But however the exact numbers shake out, polls like this should throw a whole bunch of cold water on the idea that voters will be choosing between John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and “the Mormon.” Instead, once the media is done with these guys, the choice will be between a group of complex people, all who have unique qualities–and, yes, drawbacks. Like, umm, smoking, which 21 percent seem to think is a big deal about Senator Obama. (Call me weird, but as a lifelong non-smoker, I can’t really see why that is of such concern.)
In any event, here is the key part:
The extent to which any of these attributes ultimately hurts a candidate remains to be seen. The chief reason is that politics is comparative; voters don’t assess each candidate in a vacuum but in comparison to his or her opponents.
Right on. No one will have “the Mormon,” “the smoker,” “the geezer,” or “the habitual inhabitant of divorce court” on the ballot. And when the truth comes out about all the candidates–and non-political-junkies start paying attention, we’re sure that they will choose the accomplished, well-spoken, mainstream conservative executive–Governor Romney.