Republican presidential contender Bob Dole celebrated his 73rd birthday Monday, tackling the age issue head on with a combination of humor, generosity and some old-fashioned politics.
Dole, who will officially receive the Republican presidential nomination next month, planned to end his day with a return to his birthplace of Russell, Kan.
Tanned and fit-looking, Dole kicked off his celebration by eating breakfast with senior citizens at "Sarah's Circle," a Washington, D.C., home for the elderly poor. He handed out personal gifts to 35 of the residents and also contributed his first senatorial retirement check of $6,650 to their community center.
"You always feel a little old in the morning," Dole told one of his breakfast companions. "By noon, I'll feel about 55."
Then he boarded his campaign plane, decorated with balloons and streamers, for a campaign trip to Michigan. Accepting birthday greetings from reporters, Dole quipped: "You know what they say. It's better than the alternative."
Dole would be the oldest person to assume the presidency if he beats President Clinton in the Nov. 5 election. A poll released Sunday showed one-third of Americans think Dole's age would be an obstacle to being an effective president.
In starting off his birthday with senior citizens _ some of them younger than he is _ Dole was tackling head-on without reservations the issue of whether he is too old to be president. But his age did not seem to bother Dole, who told the residents health, not age, was everything and said he was healthier than he was last year.
"When you get to be 100," he said, "it starts to bother you."