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Dole downplays age issue

Bob Dole doesn't want a cake with 73 candles. Instead, he's giving out his medical records and data to prove that he's a healthy man.

As the GOP presidential candidate celebrates his 73rd birthday today in his hometown of Russell, Kan., the Dole campaign thinks the worst of the age criticism is over now that his birthday is here.

Surveys show that one of the groups most concerned about Dole's age is the group over 65, long the GOP's constituency. Many of them say they don't have the energy they once had. They fret about the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and they worry about Dole. At 73, his average life expectancy is 10.7 more years. Yet four of 10 people over 65 say Dole may be too old to be president.

Dole would be the oldest president ever inaugurated to a first term. (Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was inaugurated in 1981.) He once offered to serve only one term if elected, but he quickly dropped that idea when supporters told him he would have new troubles if he began as a lame duck president. Dole now says he would undergo a medical exam by independent experts if he becomes president and is suspected of loss of capacity.

But Dole's energy level is high and his doctors say he's in good health despite myriad past problems.

When Dole confronts the age issue, it's often with a hint of defensiveness.

He jokes that just because he has less body fat than President Clinton does, a lower cholesterol level and lower blood pressure, he won't make an issue of being healthier than the president.