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South Carolina Democratic candidate seeks age limit for older politicians

Democratic candidate for governor Joe Cunningham declared victory over State Senator Mia McLeod in the primary race at the Music Farm in Charleston, S.C. on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Cunningham won the Democratic nomination for governor, setting up a November showdown with Republican Governor Henry McMaster, who easily defeated his opponent in the primary.Joshua Boucher/Associated Press

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joe Cunningham is proposing an age limit for South Carolina politicians — a cap that would cut off the 75-year-old incumbent Governor Henry McMaster — and making a veiled argument that even fellow Democrats like President Joe Biden are staying “in office way past their prime.”

“Our country and our state are being run by a geriatric oligarchy, people who stay in office way past their prime," Cunningham says in a campaign video, provided Wednesday to The Associated Press ahead of its public release.

“Some of these folks have been clinging onto power for 30, 40, even 50 years," Cunningham says. “The folks who are making a career out of politics are making a mess of our country.”

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Cunningham proposed instituting a 72-year-old age limit for South Carolina politicians, a retirement bar already in effect for the state’s judges, and one that would take a constitutional amendment, approved by voters, to implement. South Carolina currently requires judges to retire officially at age 72, although jurists are allowed to stay on the bench in a fill-in capacity beyond that age limit.

Cunningham ends the two-minute video by making a bipartisan appeal for support from those who may have previously voted for Biden, former President Donald Trump, or McMaster, “sometime in the last 40 years.”

Cunningham, who recently turned 40, has frequently jabbed at McMaster’s age, arguing that the Republican — who has served in a variety of public roles including lieutenant governor, US attorney and South Carolina attorney general, for the majority of the past four decades — has “been in politics longer than I’ve been alive.”

But Cunningham's campaign wouldn't answer questions Wednesday about whether the Democrat would argue that Biden — who has supported Cunningham since his 2018 run for Congress — is too old to serve.

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When he took office last year at age 78, Biden was sworn in as the oldest president in the nation’s history, displacing Ronald Reagan, who left the White House in 1989 when he was 77 years and 349 days old. According to an AP-NORC survey conducted in January, more than three-quarters of Democrats said they felt confident that Biden “has the mental capability to serve effectively as president” or “is healthy enough to serve effectively as president.” However, 8 in 10 Republicans do not have much or any confidence in either his physical health or mental capacity.

Republicans including US Senator Rick Scott of Florida, have called on Biden to resign, calling him “incoherent, incapacitated and confused.” Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley — who served the Trump administration as UN ambassador — proposed “some sort of cognitive test” for aging politicians, following a series of gaffes by Biden.

In the video, Cunningham also floats ending South Carolina's income tax — a practice already undertaken in a handful of other states — “to keep more money in your pocket.”

Cunningham, who served one term in the US House before losing his 2020 reelection bid to Republican US Rep. Nancy Mace, won a five-way primary June 14 to secure South Carolina’s gubernatorial nomination. McMaster defeated his primary opponent.