CAROLVILLE, Iowa | For months, the issue of Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ health had been a taboo subject on the campaign trial, but that changed Wednesday when a pro-Israel Democratic super PAC questioned if the 78-year-old Jewish man from Brooklyn is fit for the job.
The political arm of a group called Democratic Majority of Israel started running a television ad here featuring voters raising concerns about Mr. Sanders‘ recovery from a heart attack and his ability to defeat President Trump.
“I like Bernie, I think he has great ideas, but Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, they are just not going to vote for a socialist,” a voter identified as Michael Kuehner says in the ad.
Another voter, Darby Holroyd, says, “I do have some concerns about his health given the fact that he did have a heart attack.”
The New York Times reported that Mark Mellman, president of Democratic Majority for Israel, said the group aired the ad against Mr. Sanders because of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and because they fear he cannot win in the general election.
The spot speaks to lingering fears within the more “centrist” ranks of the Democratic Party that Mr. Sanders‘ brand of politics will hurt the party’s chances of ending the Trump presidency.
Still, the ad may have backfired.
The Times reported the Sanders camp announced it raised $1.3 million off the ad, signaling the strength of a national fundraising network that has allowed him to rake in more donations than any other Democrat in the field.
The Iowa caucuses Monday will set the tone for the Feb. 11 primary in New Hampshire.
Polls show Mr. Sanders has surged into the lead here, generating concerns among centrist-minded Democrats that back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire could make him unstoppable.
Mr. Sanders underwent emergency surgery in October after suffering a heart attack that sparked speculation over whether he could recover both physically and politically.
Mr. Sanders has defied the naysayers, rebounding from the scare, with his support here climbing more than 10 points since then — making him the polling leader in Iowa with four days to go before the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Mark Lanning, who backed Mr. Sanders in 2016 and is leaning toward backing him again, has marveled at his recovery, saying he started flirted with backing Sen. Elizabeth Warren following the heart attack but has turned back to Mr. Sanders.
“He has been gaining strength since then,” the 63-year-old said. “I heard one theory that because of the heart attack he had to cut back on personal appearances and he is spending more time with the media, doing all different kinds of media and really sort of getting his views and ideas out there maybe to more people than if he was making personal appearances.
“That is one theory,” he said. “Sounds good to me.”
But since Jan. 21, Mr. Sanders has mostly been in Washington because of President Trump’s impeachment trial.
Mr. Sanders‘ rivals for the nomination have shied away from raising doubts about his age and health.
That could be driven by a bit of self-preservation on the part of Ms. Warren, 70, and Mr. Biden, 77.
The three Democrats are vying to become the oldest first-term president in U.S. history.
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