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In touting her own presidential qualifications, Nikki Haley sounded a familiar theme that is likely to be heard a lot in the 2024 presidential race. It's a potential problem for both current front-runners.
"I think it's time for a new generational change," the 51-year-old former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador told Fox News. "I don't think you need to be 80 years old to go be a leader in D.C."
Those words were presumably aimed mostly at President Joe Biden, who already is 80. But they could also be used against former President Donald Trump, who would reach the octogenarian level if elected to another term.
And Haley's theme — likely to be used by other 2024 hopefuls in both parties — is one that has proved very successful over the years in helping younger, lesser-known hopefuls defeat older rivals.
John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all in their 40s when they were elected president, either succeeding or defeating far older rivals. In an election where the current front-runners are 80 and 76, the tendency of American voters to choose youth over age and new over old looms as a potential 2024 factor.
Biden, of course, was already the oldest person ever elected president when he defeated Trump in 2020. Now 80 and sometimes showing it, he would reach his 86th birthday if he won and completed a second term.
At present, there are no major Democratic primary challengers to Biden. But his overall job approval continues to hover in the low 40s, dangerous ground for a president planning to seek re-election.
And Biden's recent mishandling of the flap over the classified papers found in his home and former office reminded some Democrats why he remains a shaky 2024 choice.
Despite being currently unopposed, the president may be setting himself up for an unexpected challenge in next year's New Hampshire primary by seeking to relegate the traditionally first primary state to a lesser place on the Democratic nominating timeline.
Top Democrats there warn that an insurgent could embarrass Biden because of strong bipartisan opposition to his primary plan. Marianne Williamson, 70, an author and spiritual leader who made a quixotic 2020 presidential bid, is the first — but likely not the last — planning a Granite state visit.
Meanwhile, the potentially serious Democratic alternatives — if the race opens up — range from 17 years younger than Biden (Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar) to 39 years younger (Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg). Some Democrats fear the president's age could become a serious problem if Republicans choose a far younger nominee.
That could well happen. At present, the 76-year-old Trump remains the front-runner in GOP polls despite increasing doubts among party leaders about his general election prospects. He's clearly the rival Biden would most like to face.
But presidential rematches are rare in U.S. history — only six in 232 years and just one since 1900, President Dwight Eisenhower's 1956 repeat defeat of Adlai Stevenson.
Trump's chief rival in most GOP polls is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former ally re-elected last November in a landslide. At 44, he is the youngest among the best-known Republican candidates, 32 years younger than Trump.
A true measurement of the Florida governor's political strength as a presidential candidate won't come until he formally enters the race, presumably later this year. But polls show he could become a formidable challenger to the president.
The fact that he would be 35 years younger than Biden at the time of the 2024 election is also likely to be a plus; despite his youth, DeSantis has substantial governmental experience: three terms in Congress and two as governor of the nation's third most populous state.
The Florida governor is not the only Republican with a substantial age advantage over Biden. At least six others who may seek the White House would be in their 50s at the time of the 2024 election: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, now 48; Haley; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, now 51; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 52; Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, 56; and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, 57.
Several other potential GOP candidates would be in their 60s — former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, now 66; former Vice President Mike Pence, 63; and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 59. While providing less of a contrast with Biden, they're still 15-20 years younger than the president. Only Trump and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson are in their 70s.
If Biden chose not to run, the Democrats would pick a younger candidate who would either take away the GOP's age advantage — or give them one against Trump.
Besides Buttigieg and Klobuchar, possibilities include California Rep. Ro Khanna, 46; Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, both 51; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, 53; and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, 55.
Biden's vice president, former California Sen. Kamala Harris, would only reach her 60th birthday two weeks before the 2024 election.
Age won't, of course, be the only factor that will impact the 2024 election. Not only did Biden beat Trump, but Ronald Reagan won the presidency twice over younger rivals, and George H.W. Bush did it once.
All things being equal, however, Americans tend to prefer a young, vigorous leader over an older one.