Home News Danny Davis’ age didn’t scuttle his bid. What about Biden and Trump?

Danny Davis’ age didn’t scuttle his bid. What about Biden and Trump?


How old is too old to hold elected office? Not 82, and counting, according to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.

That was the message Davis pounded home Tuesday at his election night celebration at campaign headquarters in East Garfield Park.

“I’m calling this a victory … for senior citizens,” Davis declared as he accepted the Democratic nomination for the 7th Congressional District.

Davis captured 53% of the vote against four opponents, all decades younger. They focused their campaigns on his longevity in office. They didn’t call out the number, but his age was in the air.

The leading challengers, Kina Collins, a 33-year-old community activist, and Chicago city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, 48, argued it was time for Davis to go.

His gleeful victory lap was not just for him but also for his “senior” peeps.

“Don’t ever write off the senior citizens,” he said. “Don’t write off President Joe Biden, because he’s going to lead this country to where it needs to be. And I’m going to be standing right there beside him.”

Davis is 82. Biden, 81. Davis will turn 83 before the Nov. 5 election.

During the campaign, Collins, who had mounted a third bid for Davis’ seat, argued it was time for younger progressives to take charge, a “changing of the guard,” Block Club Chicago reported.  On Conyears-Ervin’s campaign website, she said, “Davis has been in office since 1979 and isn’t getting the job done,” Block Club noted.

Davis’ “seniors” delivered. The older set carried the ball in Tuesday’s primary. Of Chicago voters who weighed in by election night, 55% were older than 55, according to data from the Chicago Board of Elections.

Sadly, the overall voter turnout, about 20% of registered voters in Chicago, was one of the worst in city history. “Shockingly low,” elections board spokesperson Max Bever attested.

And that perennially ballyhooed “youth vote?” Just under 14% of voters ages 24 to 34 cast a ballot.

Davis is a shoo-in to be elected to a 15th consecutive term representing the district, which stretches from Chicago‘s west suburbs to the Loop and Near South Side. His base is on the city’s mostly Black West Side. Black voters, especially seniors, are the Democrats’ most loyal, and they covet the privilege of voting.

My mother’s last public act, before she passed away in May at 89, was to walk on my arm, unsteadily but undaunted, to her polling place to vote in Chicago’s citywide elections. If she had not voted that one last time, she would not be resting in peace.

The “too old?” question will dominate in the 2024 presidential campaign, and the primaries have already exposed a glaring gap in voter participation.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, 7th, greets people as he arrives to cast his ballot at the Sankofa Cultural Center on March 19, 2024, in the Austin neighborhood. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis greets people as he arrives to cast his ballot at the Sankofa Cultural Center on March 19, 2024, in the Austin neighborhood. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Davis and his seniors may be standing with Biden in November, but they can’t count on younger voters to be there with them. The presumptive presidential nominees are Biden and former President Donald Trump, 77. Many young voters may agree with Collins — that it is past time for a new generation of leadership.

On the eve of the February Michigan primary, New York Times interviews with more than two dozen students across the state “indicated a deeper well of dissatisfaction, not just with the incumbent president, but with the prospect of once again having to choose between two candidates — Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump — decades older than them,” the newspaper reported.

“National polls have for months reflected a similar sentiment: Voters under 30, who backed Mr. Biden by more than 20 points in 2020, are unenthusiastic about a rematch between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump,” the Times reported.

The Biden administration’s position on the violence in Gaza is key. Young voters object to Israel’s fierce assault on Gaza and the heavy toll of civilian casualties and argue that Biden hasn’t done enough to stop it.

Biden’s campaign is hitting social media channels to tout his administration’s record on addressing his work on the climate crisis, championing abortion rights and forgiving millions of dollars in student loan debt. Yet some young people told the Times that “they were not aware of the president’s accomplishments on issues they cared about, part of a messaging challenge the campaign has sought to remedy by expanding its digital presence.”

“I acknowledge the American right to vote, but we also have the right to not do so, especially if you don’t agree with any of the candidates,” Aiden Duong, a 19-year-old student at Michigan State, was quoted as saying. Duong said he did not plan to support either Trump or Biden, the Times reported, “citing their ages and what he perceived as inaction on climate change, a key issue for him.”

Age is more than a number — it is an irrefutable reality.

The candidates will be under intense pressure to outperform their ages. The presidency is the toughest job in the world, with extreme and unrelenting demands. Biden and Trump must convince young voters, and many others, that they are up to it. They must be vibrant, vigorous and in charge of what will be a brutal campaign, then run the world for four more years.

It’s not just young people who may consider that implausible — and turn off instead of turning out.

Laura Washington is a political commentator and longtime Chicago journalist. Her columns appear in the Tribune each Monday. Write to her at [email protected].

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email [email protected].

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