Sen. Bernie Sanders is recovering from an emergency heart procedure to treat a blocked artery and has canceled his events “until further notice,” his presidential campaign announced Wednesday.
During a campaign appearance in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening, the 78-year-old Vermont senator began experiencing chest pains; video showed Sanders resting against a lectern at one point and asking for a chair to sit down, saying, “It’s been a long day.”
“Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery, and two stents were successfully inserted,” senior campaign advisor Jeff Weaver said in a statement. “Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days,” the statement said.
In addition to canceling at least 10 appearances scheduled for Las Vegas and California through Friday, the campaign postponed a planned $1.3-million television ad buy in Iowa. The commercial, Sanders’ first of the election cycle, portrays him as a fighter for the working class. His campaign did not specify when it would put the ad on the airwaves.
Sanders tweeted Wednesday afternoon to thank supporters for wishing him well and say he was “feeling good.” Then he turned the topic to healthcare: “None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us. And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!”
Thanks for all the well wishes. I'm feeling good. I'm fortunate to have good health care and great doctors and nurses helping me to recover.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 2, 2019
None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us. And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!
The news about the independent senator, a top Democratic candidate with a devoted following, sent a jolt through the political world on Wednesday morning. Any persistent questions about health and longevity could have ramifications not just for Sanders’ campaign, but also all the Democratic front-runners and President Trump.
All of the candidates in their 70s are “going to get more scrutiny if there’s any physical or mental issues that arise,” said Peter D. Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster and strategist who is neutral in the primary.
However, given recent history, they won’t necessarily “be ignored or passed over by voters” merely for undergoing a medical procedure, he said. “If you get multiple issues, or a very serious mental or physical problem, that will change the equation for the candidate,” Hart said. “What voters are really looking for is how this person performs and are his or her mental faculties all together.”
Sanders is the oldest candidate in the 2020 presidential primary and would be the oldest president ever elected were he to win, and his hospitalization is likely to raise questions about his ability to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule as he seeks the nation’s highest office.
Sanders is a year older than former Vice President Joe Biden, but had not faced as many pointed questions about his age and health. Neither has Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is 70; she usually runs onto the podium at her campaign rallies.
After the third presidential debate in September, during which Julián Castro, 45, made a thinly veiled attack on Biden’s age by questioning his memory, all three of the septuagenarian Democratic candidates pledged to release their medical records.
Two weeks ago, Sanders told NBC News that he would “absolutely” release his medical records before the first primary votes.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Sanders said. “The American people have the right to know about whether the person they are going to be voting for for president is healthy, and we will certainly release our medical records before the primaries.”
President Trump is 73 and has faced questions about his own physical and mental health. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, then 68, received intense scrutiny when she was seen needing the help of aides after she contracted pneumonia while campaigning, with Trump repeatedly questioning her physical fitness for office.
While Sanders’ health episode opens an opportunity for younger candidates to raise the age issue, they have to be careful to avoid seeming crass or opportunistic, said longtime Democratic media strategist David Doak, who is neutral in the race. “Trying to make an issue of it could say more about you than your opponent,” he said.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, Tim Murtagh, tweeted, “All of us at @TeamTrump offer @BernieSanders our prayers and wish him a speedy recovery.”
Sanders’ rivals for the Democratic nomination also sent good wishes.
"@DrBiden and I are sending our best wishes to @BernieSanders, Jane, and the whole Sanders family,” Biden wrote in a tweet. “Anyone who knows Bernie understands what a force he is. We are confident that he will have a full and speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him on the trail soon.”
“Bruce, Team Warren, and I are sending all our best wishes for a speedy recovery to @BernieSanders,” Warren tweeted, referring to her husband. “I hope to see my friend back on the campaign trail very soon.”
“All of us here at @PeteForAmerica are sending our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Senator @BernieSanders,” tweeted South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, at 37 the youngest candidate in the race. “We’re thinking of him and his family today, and I look forward to seeing him back on the campaign trail very soon.”
Sanders also received an outpouring of good wishes from supporters online. “If it would help, I’d donate my heart to Bernie, just so he could keep speaking the truth,” tweeted author Barbara Ehrenreich.
Experts said it isn’t unusual for someone Sanders’ age to have arterial blockages, which tend to be driven by risk factors such as age, cholesterol levels and stress. Stents, tiny metal tubes, are inserted into arteries so blood can flow to the heart without obstruction; experts said the procedure is common and relatively low-risk.
“Think of it as a pipe in your sink with some buildup in it,” Dr. Howard C. Herrmann, the director of Interventional Cardiology at Penn Medicine, said of artery blockages. “The artery may have multiple areas of buildup, but then there are choke points where the buildup gets to be more than 70% or 80% and it actually blocks the blood flow, so you don’t get enough blood or oxygen to the heart muscle.”
Cardiologist Helga Van Herle, who teaches at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, said it was impossible to draw firm conclusions on Sanders’ prognosis without more details on his condition. But she said of the stent insertion, “In general, people do very well after these procedures, especially if they’re done early on.”
Heart problems posed an issue for Democratic candidate Bill Bradley in the 2000 presidential primary campaign. Bradley, who was then 56, had to pause his campaign after being hospitalized for atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat — and experienced four more episodes over the following weeks.
But Bradley continued to campaign until repeated primary victories by then-Vice President Al Gore, the eventual nominee, forced Bradley to drop out. Bradley is still alive today.
In 1996, Republican candidate Bob Dole also faced questions about his fitness after the then-73-year-old fell off a 3½-foot stage in Chico, Calif. But Dole continued to campaign, with his campaign defending his vigor.
“This should put to rest the age question once and for all,” Dole’s press secretary, Nelson Warfield, told reporters. “If Bob Dole can take a tumble like that and hop right back up on his feet and deliver a great speech, he’s strong enough to be president and go a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson too.” Dole lost the 1996 election to President Clinton and remains alive today.
Times staff writers Alexa Díaz, Michael Finnegan, Janet Hook and Melanie Mason contributed to this report.