How Candidates’ Health Matters to Voters

By Brenda Flanagan

She tried to slip away, but an amateur videographer caught Hillary Clinton collapsing after she left the 9/11 memorial on Sunday. She felt overheated, a spokesman later said. Medical doctors could explain that.

“In this large crowd and she hadn’t had enough to drink, and her blood pressure could drop. And that happens and can cause you to get suddenly weak,” said Dr. John DiGioia, internal medicine specialist and board member of the Medical Society of New Jersey.

But it took hours for her campaign’s spin doctors to divulge Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia last Friday. Analysts say that just exacerbated a secondary political infection.

“Now she has two things to answer to, which is her health and also what she was hiding about her health,” said Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray. “If trustworthiness is one of your weaknesses and you’re hiding this, that just compounds the issue that we have before us, and I think that’s what people are talking about right now.”

As Democratic political guru David Axelrod put it, Clinton suffers from “…an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems…” Perhaps Clinton feared to feed suspicions already raised by Republican candidate Donald Trump.

“Hillary Clinton does not have the stamina, does not have the energy, doesn’t have it, doesn’t have the strength to be president,” Trump said.

“This has become one of their themes. Here, take my pulse while I’m talking to you. Make sure I’m alive,” Clinton told Jimmy Kimmel. He replied, “Oh my God, there’s nothing there!”

Clinton’s response was to crack jokes and point out Trump thus far has released just a one-page letter from his doctor, praising Trump’s “astonishingly excellent” lab results and predicting Trump “…will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

How much does health actually matter to voters? Professor Alain Sanders says a lot.

“People want a president that is healthy and sturdy of mind, steady of mind. Any physical issue brings into question the mental state of the candidate. Now, once people are sure that the mental state of the candidate is sturdy, solid and safe, physical infirmities don’t seem to get in the way, too much,” he said.

Chronic illness plagued many popular presidents, like JFK who suffered from Addison’s disease and took steroids or FDR who survived childhood polio but needed crutches or a wheelchair. But their campaigns and staff tried to hide it.

“If they can’t hide the information, then they will try to show in their public appearances and in their speeches and in their policy postures that they are, in fact, fully vigorous and fully mentally stable,” Sanders said.

No shock that candidates try to manipulate public perception. Gov. Chris Christie held a news conference after spending eight hours in the hospital for an asthma attack. He joked about his weight — pulling the now-infamous doughnut stunt on Letterman — but later, Christie underwent lap band surgery to show voters he took his health seriously.

“I did this for myself, my wife and my children. And — unlike some of you — they will still pay attention to me, whether I run for president or not,” he said at the time.

Clinton — who’s 68 — is expected back on the campaign trail tomorrow. Trump’s 70. They’re the oldest candidates to run for the presidency.

“If they have a rigorous schedule and they’re not sleeping well, their immune system is going to become weaker and then that predisposes you to infection, along with the fact if you’re greater than 65 years old, that also is a risk factor for developing pneumonia,” said Dr. Amar Bukhari, chief of pulmonary medicine at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

“We don’t really know a lot about either one’s health right now, because neither one has given us a significant amount of information about their health. I think voters will want to know more,” Murray said. “We see what damage can be done when you hide something and it becomes serious.”

The Clinton camp said it will release more medical records on the candidate in the next couple of days. Trump said he underwent a full physical last week and will release the results on a TV talk show this Thursday.