U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is off the campaign trail indefinitely while recovering from surgery for an artery blockage — a health scare during an already rocky time in the 78-year-old’s presidential campaign that could benefit his main rival, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The Vermont senator went into surgery after he “experienced some chest discomfort” at a campaign event Tuesday evening, campaign senior adviser Jeff Weaver said.
“Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted,” Weaver said. “Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days.”
Sanders tweeted Wednesday that he was “feeling good” even as his campaign canceled his events and appearances until further notice, and reportedly postponed an ad buy in Iowa. His Democratic rivals and President Trump’s campaign showered Sanders with an outpouring of support.
Veteran pollster John Zogby said Sanders’ health scare “comes at an unfortunate time when there’s kind of a downward momentum to his campaign.”
With several national and early state polls showing Sanders slipping — and Warren rising to take on former Vice President Joe Biden more directly — Zogby said a health issue “could cause a free fall. It’s like landing a punch when someone is just becoming vulnerable.”
Democratic strategist Patrick Dorton said, “Bernie’s thunder has already been stolen by Elizabeth Warren. He was already headed to irrelevancy, and his health issues add momentum to the downward spiral of his campaign.”
Conservative strategist Brad Marston said Sanders’ ailment is “only good” politically for Warren.
While Warren, at 70, is less than a decade younger than Sanders, she’s displayed noticeably more energy on the campaign trail, her enthusiasm standing in contrast to Sanders’ vigorous but more ornery approach.
“She does come off as healthier and her ideas — as crazy as they are — they don’t seem as crazy as Sanders,” Marston said.
Despite taking a brief hiatus in September to “rest his voice,” which had become increasingly hoarse, Sanders — the oldest of the four septuagenarians leading the presidential race — has largely avoided the focus age and health that as plagued his closest rival, 76-year-old Biden.
Strategists say voters seem more concerned with mental acuity than physical well-being, and that Democrats will be unwilling to hit Sanders on his health. The stent procedure Sanders underwent is so routine that patients can typically resume strenuous activity — possibly even a presidential campaign — within a week or two.
“If it were signs of dementia, I think that it would be taken more seriously,” said Zogby, who has undergone heart surgery himself. “But a stent, as I said before, is just not a big deal.”
Sanders might be buffered to some extent by his war chest. He’s topped the Democratic field so far in third-quarter fundraising with $25.3 million, and has brought in $61.5 million overall, putting him a good position as the campaign marches closer to primary season.
“He’s raised $25 million. He’s not going anywhere,” Marston said.