Cancer Unlikely to Affect Kerry White House Bid
Candidate Discloses Illness on Tuesday Despite Knowing About It for Weeks
[IMGCAP(2)]After a rapid ascent to the front of the Democratic field for the 2004 presidential nomination, Sen. John Kerry’s (Mass.) campaign took a detour Tuesday with his disclosure that he has prostate cancer.
The 59-year-old Massachusetts lawmaker will undergo surgery this morning at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. Kerry’s physician, Dr. Patrick Walsh, urologist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins, predicted a full and rapid recovery for the four-term Senator.
Kerry, whose father died of prostate cancer at age 85, gave an upbeat assessment of his condition, saying he felt “very lucky” that the cancer had been detected so early.
Kerry had been aware of the diagnosis for more than a month, learning of it just weeks after officially joining the presidential race.
Kerry received the first indications of a potential problem last fall during a routine physical by Senate physicians. A follow-up test in December confirmed the cancer.
Asked about the timing of the announcement at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, Kerry said that he “wanted to be able to do it on my terms.”
He was repeatedly questioned by reporters, however, about whether he had been completely forthcoming about his health in recent interviews.
There is no indication that the cancer will hamper Kerry’s long-term viability in the presidential race, and he said Tuesday that he has no plans to drop out of the race.
“In two weeks I am scheduled to do things on the West Coast,” Kerry said. “I intend to be there.”
Robert Gibbs, a Kerry spokesman, said that there would only be a “temporary” pause in the campaign, adding that Kerry had not canceled any major campaign events as a result of his illness.
At press time Tuesday, none of Kerry’s Democratic potential rivals — Sens. Bob Graham (Fla.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), John Edwards (N.C.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) as well as Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and the Rev. Al Sharpton — had released statements regarding the revelation.
Graham is himself recovering from heart surgery performed Jan. 31. The procedure has done little to dull Graham’s enthusiasm for the race, and he is expected to file papers to form a presidential exploratory committee within a month.
Kerry is not the first presidential candidate in recent memory to admit health problems in the midst of a campaign.
During his 2000 primary battle with then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) disclosed that he had skin cancer and was being treated for the disease; that same year, former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.) suffered from an abnormal heartbeat that caused some observers to question whether the former professional basketball player was healthy enough to become the nation’s chief executive in his race against Vice President Al Gore.
Although both men came out on the losing end of their primary races, neither loss was attributed to illness.
When former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) ran for the White House in 1992, he and his doctors claimed he was “cancer-free” and his campaign even ran ads showing the candidate swimming and diving in an attempt to show that he had fully recovered. Tsongas left the Senate after one term in 1984 because of his health and was succeeded by Kerry. Tsongas eventually dropped out of the presidential race, but not because of his health.
[IMGCAP(1)] Tsongas’ cancer returned, and he died in 1997 at age 55.
A number of other Senate and House races have been affected by revelations about the health of one or more candidates.
Probably the best-known example was in April 2000 when then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) announced that he had prostate cancer during a heated Senate campaign with now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in which he had already raised more than $20 million. Giuliani dropped out of the race less than a month later, citing his need to focus on his own recovery rather than the rigors of a Senate bid as the main reason.
Clinton went on to beat then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R) 55 percent to 43 percent.
Kerry said Tuesday that he had spoken with Giuliani about his experiences fighting the disease.
In 2002, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (D), who made an unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Gordon Smith (R), made no secret of his struggle with multiple sclerosis and admitted that while it never had been a public issue in any race, his health had come up in “whisper campaigns.”
The late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) also revealed that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during his 2002 race against now-Sen. Norm Coleman (R).
It played little to no role in the race, however, and was made entirely moot when Wellstone was killed in a plane crash Oct. 25, 2002. Coleman went on to defeat former Vice President Walter Mondale (D) in November.
On the House side, Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.) has won four elections since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1995.
Evans made his condition public in 1998 during a competitive race, which he won narrowly. Facing the same opponent in 2000, Evans ran ads explaining his condition and the restrictions it placed on his life. Evans decided to run the ads after alleged “push polling” insinuated that he was not fit for office, which he said was sponsored by Republicans.
He was re-elected easily in that race and won 62 percent in 2002.
Former Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.), who had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1997, retired before the 2002 election but made no mention of his health as a factor in his decision.
In his final re-election race, Skeen’s opponent accused the Congressman of “dereliction of duty” for not fully revealing his condition.
Skeen won with 58 percent.