WASHINGTON - On "Saturday Night Live" last weekend, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, asked and answered a question with mock solemnity.
"What should we be looking for in our next president?" McCain asked. "Certainly somebody who is very, very, very old."
Today, the McCain campaign was to release summaries of the senator's medical records in an effort to calm whatever public concern there is that the 71-year-old candidate might not be healthy enough to take on the high-stress job of president in 2009.
His doctors will spend 90 minutes answering questions from reporters during a conference call, and a small pool of reporters in Phoenix will be allowed to examine the documents firsthand. If he wins the general election, McCain would be the oldest person in the nation's history elected to a first term as president.
Campaign manager Rick Davis said reporters looking for an exciting story "are going to be woefully disappointed," adding, "He defies all the rules of aging."
Still, public-opinion polls show that McCain's age and health are a factor in voters' decision-making. Voters are far more comfortable electing an African-American or a woman president than someone who would enter office at the age of 72.
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 66 percent of voters surveyed were "entirely comfortable" electing an African-American as president, 62 percent felt the same way about electing a woman president, but just 31 percent felt as comfortable with someone entering office at McCain's age.
"I think age is a big issue," said Burdett Loomis, a political-science professor at the University of Kansas. "The most obvious one is you've got a guy who's 71 years old running against a 46-year-old. If there's anything we know about serving as president, it really takes a tremendous toll."
Ed Rollins, a GOP strategist who advised former President Ronald Reagan, countered: "People admire his energy. He's just not a dawdling old man. He's a feisty old man." *