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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The man who almost certainly will be the Republican nominee for president is releasing his medical records today. The Associated Press has got an early look at those records, and they show that John McCain is pretty healthy, with a strong heart and no signs of cancer. That's important because McCain is 71, which would make him, if he wins, the oldest president to be elected to a first term.

So far McCain's age doesn't seem to be working against him. NPR's Scott Horsley tells us why.

SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain confronted the age question head-on last weekend, not on one of the somber Sunday morning talk shows but on "Saturday Night Live."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Good evening, my fellow Americans. I ask you, what should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly someone who is very, very, very old.

HORSLEY: The senator's comedy act was well received, even though for many voters age is no laughing matter.

More than a year ago, pollster Andy Kohut and the Pew Research Center asked voters what characteristics might make them more or less likely to vote for a presidential candidate. Few people said they'd be less likely to vote for one who's black or a woman, but half the voters told Kohut they'd be less likely to vote for a candidate in his 70s.

Mr. ANDY KOHUT (Pew Research Center): A candidate in their 70s registered one of the highest I'd be less likely to vote for responses, almost as high as a Muslim or someone who's never held office or someone who doesn't believe in God. So the initial reaction in general terms about an older person serving as president is pretty upfront and say they have some reservations about it.

HORSLEY: But those reservations don't seem to rub off on John McCain. Only about one in four voters says the Arizona senator is too old to be president. Kohut says that number climbed slightly to about one in three voters, but only when pollsters point out that McCain is 71.

Mr. KOHUT: Which is another way of saying that he doesn't look his age, I guess, or he doesn't appear as old as he is.

HORSLEY: On the campaign trail, McCain appears vigorous and energetic. Although in recent months his schedule has been considerably less taxing than his Democratic opponents. Kohut recalls that Bob Dole's age wasn't initially seen as a big factor in 1996, when Dole turned 73, but it became more of a drag as the campaign wore on.

Mr. KOHUT: Not only did people see Senator Dole as old, they began to associate him with old ideas.

HORSLEY: Political satirists hope to attach the same stigma to McCain with this YouTube video, which points out some of the inventions that weren't around when he was born.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) G.I. Joes, Barbie dolls, the Air Force, shopping malls, the CIA, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, credit cards, string bikinis, (unintelligible) Pop Tarts, Tupperware, hoola-hoops and Medicare (unintelligible) younger than John McCain...

HORSLEY: McCain himself sometimes plays into ageist stereotypes, like yesterday, when he said he can still picture the lawmakers behind the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930.

But on most days McCain seems hipper than your average 17-year-old, joking about popular TV shows and appearing regularly with John Stewart. McCain can also point to his mother, who sometimes campaigns with him. Roberta McCain is still punky and vivacious at age 96.

Sen. McCAIN: Last Christmas my mother wanted to travel around France, so she flew to Paris, tried to rent a car. They told her she was too old, so she bought one and drove around France.

HORSLEY: At 71, McCain has already lived longer than either his father or grandfather. On Inauguration Day he'd be two and a half years old than Ronald Reagan when he took the oath of office. Reagan of course went on to serve two full terms after putting the age question to rest in a 1984 debate.

President RONALD REAGAN: 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Speaking of youth, Kohut's research found most voters no less likely to vote for a presidential candidate in his 40s, like Barack Obama.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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