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Bernie Sanders’s Debate Return After His Heart Attack

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For this group of Sanders supporters, all members of a local chapter of the progressive organization Our Revolution, assessing his performance was important. But abandoning him was never actually an option: The promise of a political revolution is worth supporting a 78-year-old who just suffered a myocardial infarction. Even if the worst were to happen—Sanders getting sick or even dying in office, a possibility with any president—America would still have elected him, some supporters argued. His appointees would be in place. The revolution would live on. “Not me, us,” as Sanders’s campaign mantra goes.

News of Sanders’s heart attack came on October 4—three days after the campaign announced that the senator had experienced chest pain during a stop in Las Vegas and had two stents inserted to fix a blocked coronary artery. That it took three days for his team to confirm the heart attack brought on questions about the seriousness of his condition, as well as more scrutiny on an already highly scrutinized aspect of Sanders’s candidacy: his age. If elected, Sanders would be the oldest president in history; he’d be 82 years old by the end of his first term.

But the Sanders supporters I spoke with at the watch party, hunched over heaping plates of chicken wings and mozzarella sticks, were unruffled. His age didn’t disqualify him before, they said, and it doesn’t now.

“A lot of [candidates] are in their 70s,” Spitz said with a shrug, referring to Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, who are 70 and 76 years old, respectively. Plus, he explained, low voter turnout was a major factor in Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016. “You want to have a candidate that’s attractive to young people,” Spitz said, “and that’s Bernie.”

Andrew Parr, the organizer of last night’s event, who lives in Arlington and works in export control, told me he was worried about Sanders’s long-term health “for about three seconds” before learning that the senator had undergone a relatively common procedure. “It’s not a showstopper,” Parr said. He added that he simply doesn’t trust any other Democratic candidate to follow through on an ambitious progressive agenda. “He’s an original,” Parr said, noting he’s “not willing to risk” supporting another Democrat.

Onstage last night, Sanders tried to relieve any doubts among viewers about his condition. “I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” Sanders told the audience at the beginning of the debate. “We are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people.”

Other attendees justified their continued support for the rumpled septuagenarian by emphasizing the larger implications of a Sanders 2020 win—from filling judicial seats to appointing progressives to Cabinet posts. “It’s not only a president that you’re electing. You’re electing everyone who’s in positions of power,” Alison Acker, a 39-year-old speech therapist, told me. “If [Sanders] were to die in office …  he would have people that we can trust in all the positions doing all the rest of the work.”

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