It was probably no accident that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released his medical records today just before the long Memorial Day weekend, just as it was probably not a coincidence that it took place amid speculation about who his running mate will be.
"The fact that they are releasing his medical records on the Friday before a holiday weekend while they're also trying to drum up speculation about who may be his veep shows us that they're trying to bury this news as much as possible," said David Chalian, ABC News political director.
Millions of Americans are taking off Saturday to Monday, going out of town or relaxing at home, not paying much attention to the news. It was a perfect time to release medical documents that raise the issue of McCain's health and the related issue of his age.
The medical records give the 71-year-old senator a fairly clean bill of health but also put the spotlight on something his campaign would prefer to be not so brightly illuminated.
Some political analysts said the leak of news that McCain was hosting Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and several others at his compound in Sedona, Ariz., was also designed to deflect attention from the medical records.
An Associated Press poll in April found that 26 percent of respondents said they would be "less enthusiastic" about McCain's candidacy because of his age. In a more recent poll, 39 percent of people said they were uncomfortable with the general concept of a president taking office at the age of 72.
McCain turns 72 in August. If elected, he would be the oldest president ever at the beginning of his first term.
"Without a doubt, polling shows that Americans do have a concern about electing someone to the presidency in their 70s," Chalian said. "There's no doubt about that. That is a concern that needs to be assuaged by John McCain and his campaign."
The McCain campaign recognizes that it cannot simply ignore his age. Campaign officials intend to confront it with what one adviser called "vigor and humor."
That strategy calls for highlighting McCain's rigorous campaign schedule. There will also be photo opportunities, such as his walk through forest outside Seattle last week.
McCain has long made fun of his age. He often says he is "older than dirt." But he has stepped up the self-mockery. On "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend, he said jocularly that the country needs a "very, very, very, very old" president.
But while McCain easily mocks his advanced years, his campaign advisers are especially sensitive to what they perceive as cracks in code words and references linking McCain to the past.
Earlier this month, one of McCain's closet aides, Mark Salter, became enraged when Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., McCain's likely general election opponent, said McCain's criticism of him was evidence McCain was "losing his bearings."
"He used the words 'losing his bearings' intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as an issue," Salter said in an e-mail. "This is typical of the Obama style of campaigning."
The McCain campaign has sought to flip the age issue into one of experience and judgment. McCain has attacked Obama for being naive when he says he would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran and Cuba. He sometimes pointedly refers to the freshman senator as the "junior senator" from Illinois.
On Thursday, at a campaign event in Stockton, Calif., McCain even poked fun at Obama's relative youth. Obama is 46.
"I admire and respect Sen. Obama," McCain said in a tone that some took to be sarcastic. "For a young man with very little experience, he's done very well."
Late Friday afternoon, the McCain campaign unexpectedly released the 2006 tax returns of his wife, Cindy. They showed that she earned more than $6 million, more than $4.5 million of which was listed as coming from "rental real estate [and] royalties." Mrs. McCain, who files her taxes separately from her husband, paid $1.7 million in taxes. She had previously refused to release her personal income tax returns.