Pure Horserace: An Age-Old Question

McCain with just a few of the approximately three dozen U.S. soldiers who accompanied him, along with two helicopter gunships on a controversial trip to the al-Shorja market in Baghdad last Sunday, 4/1/07.
Of all the presidential candidates of both parties, none are more closely associated with the war in Iraq as John McCain. While most of the field is trying to keep their ties to the war at arm's length, McCain continues to tether himself — and his candidacy — to the troop surge and continued support for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

It's an issue for his campaign that has already drawn thousands of column inches and hours of airtime and will continue to be the opening line of almost any discussion about McCain's presidential prospects.

The Arizona senator continues to insist there is little alternative to military success in Iraq, something he made perfectly clear in his interview with Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes" last night. McCain was perfectly comfortable talking about a position most find politically uncomfortable at best. But it was another issue that seemed less pleasant for him to discuss — the age question.

Reminded of a recent CBS News poll about voter attitudes toward a candidate's age, McCain seemed to bristle at the question. The poll asked what age respondents felt was preferable for a president taking office. Exactly zero percent picked 70 years or older — McCain would be 72 upon taking office if he should win the White House.

With a thin smile, McCain responded, "I don't like this line of questioning at all. I find it offensive." He then quickly launched into a recitation of his work schedule, telling Pelley that he works "seven days a week, 12, 14, 16 hours a day," and insisted voters will judge him by his conduct during the campaign, not his age.

McCain had to have been pleased at Pelley's observation that the senator 'seems inexhaustible," but the exchange demonstrated the sensitive nature of the issue. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has energized voters in part because he brings a youthful, new voice into the political process. McCain has positioned himself as an established leader, someone with the experience of years.

In years past, that's been a winning recipe for Republican candidates, at least in terms of nabbing the nomination. Whether age is a virtue in 2008 isn't yet clear, but it's safe to say that it's a concern for McCain's campaign. You can always change positions on Iraq — but you can't stop time.

If He's Blogging, Is He Running? The Fred Thompson boomlet continues to be the talk of Republican circles — and for the first time in a while, we've heard from the former Tennessee senator. While the political world awaits word on his potential presidential candidacy, Thompson is talking — about Iran. On a blog.

Weighing in on the conservative Red State blog, Thompson says he's concerned about the outcome of the British hostage situation and the seeming victory of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Thompson wrote:

Maybe it's because military action won't be needed or maybe it's just because the ordeal won't drag on and on, but the world is breathing easier now. A lot of folks are happy. The problem, as I see it, is that Ahmadinejad seems to be the happiest.
We still don't know what will become of the Thompson-for-president movement, but his recent blogging activity is a tantalizing new clue.

Taking It To 'Em: Last week, we noted the aggressive talk coming from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee about some of his fellow Republicans. Then, it was a warning about the importance of personal responsibility, a thinly-veiled jab at Rudy Giuliani. Yesterday, it was a direct poke at Mitt Romney.

Appearing on "Face the Nation," Huckabee spoke about the recent flap over Romney's hunting habits. The former Massachusetts governor has spent several days explaining when, where and what he has hunted, often to somewhat embarrassing results. By calling himself a lifelong hunter despite never having received a hunting license, Huckabee said Romney had made a "major mistake."

"It would be like me saying I've been a lifelong golfer because I played putt-putt when I was 9 years old and I rode in a golf cart a couple of times," Huckabee said. That's one way for a lower-tier candidate to get himself in the headlines.

New York Is In: It's official — next Feb. 5 will be a Super-Duper day for presidential politics. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Monday signed legislation moving his state's primary to that date, joining what could be as many as two dozen other states.

Yes, we've pounded this issue into the ground — but, make no mistake, it's one of utmost importance for the campaign. The primary calendar will dictate strategy, spending decisions and candidate travel to uncertain results. Will aggressive effort in places like California and New York by heavily-funded campaigns hurt their image in New Hampshire and Iowa? Will a win in one of those early states afford a springboard — or will there be enough time to marshal resources needed to compete on the 5th?

Momentum versus money — it's a theme we're going to hear a lot more about over the next several months.

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By Vaughn Ververs