Sanders recovering after heart procedure. Will his campaign?

The fact that 78-year-old presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders had emergency heart surgery today leaves his campaign with two uncertain prognoses: one medical, the other political.

The medical one is far simpler.

The procedure Sanders had — the insertion of mesh tubes, or stents, to prop open a full or partially blocked artery and allow easier blood flow — is “not a big deal, mechanically speaking,” said Valentin Fuster, director of the Mount Sinai Heart Center in Manhattan, adding that “in general patients do very well.”

The question of why the blockage occurred in the first place and what future risks Sanders might face are more complicated, Fuster said, “Is there high blood pressure, or diabetes, or high cholesterol? There are many issues that must be looked at before coming to any conclusion.”

Sanders had the procedure after experiencing chest pain while campaigning in Nevada late Tuesday afternoon, and was reported to be recovering in an unnamed hospital.

“Sen. Sanders experienced some chest discomfort,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a short statement. “Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted. Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days. We are canceling his events and appearances until further notice, and we will continue to provide appropriate updates.”

As to the political questions, those are beyond the realm of a cardiologist.

Bernie Sanders and wife, Jane
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Bernie Sanders and wife, Jane
Former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders hugs his wife Jane after making a motion to suspend the rules and nominate Hillary Clinton as the Demcoratic presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gets a kiss from his wife Jane as he addresses supporters following the closing of the polls in the California presidential primary in Santa Monica, California, U.S., June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane wave to the audience during a rally in Vallejo, California, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
PORTSMOUTH, NH - With Jane Sanders, Democratic Presumptive Nominee for President former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends a rally with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at Portsmouth High School Gymnasium in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Jane O'Meara Sanders walks on the floor during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders kisses his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, at a rally in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States October 14, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (C) hugs his wife Jane Sanders (L) while actress Susan Sarandon surveys the overflow room at a campaign rally in Fairfield, Iowa January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' wife Jane (R) waves to the crowd as Sanders acknowledges her and his step daughters Carina (L) and Heather (C) as Sanders addresses his final campaign rally before the Iowa Caucus at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Jane Sanders, wife of Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, listens during an interview following a campaign event in Fort Madison, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. In advance of Monday's Iowa caucuses, the first electoral contest of the presidential primaries, Jane Sanders has ventured out often on her own, sometimes with multiple events the same day. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, walks with his wife Jane Sanders ahead of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. With Vice President Joe Biden officially out of the presidential race, the nation's first nominating contest between front-runner Hillary Clinton and Sanders is gaining steam, according to a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 12: With his wife Jane O'Meara, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) prepares to speak at a Florence Town Hall Meeting in an arena in Florence, South Carolina on Saturday September 12, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sanders is one of three Democratic hopefuls who are 70 or older, and age has been both a direct and oblique issue during the campaign. Sometimes it takes the form of a debate of the old ways versus the new ones, and 76-year-old Joe Biden in particular has been portrayed by opponents as belonging to a bygone time.

But physical health has also been raised as a concern, as these candidates battle for a job that has been known to age much younger men. Last month, Biden, Sanders and 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren all pledged to release full medical reports before the Iowa primary.

So if Sanders — sometimes called the Energizer Bunny because his energy rarely seems to flag — is physically well enough to get back on the campaign trail, will he be politically healthy enough?

His medical troubles come at a time when his poll numbers have been slipping, notably against Warren, but just a day after his campaign reported the best quarterly fundraising total of any Democrat this cycle: more than $25 million.

For the moment, the speculation about the political effects of today’s procedure seem limited to celebratory tweets from longtime Trump supporters and “too soon to tell” messages from a few journalists.

Campaign speechwriter David Sirota aimed to spin the news to talk about health care, tweeting, “I’d encourage media reporting on stents to point out that stents are an example of why we need to join the rest of the industrialized world and pass @BernieSanders’ Medicare for All plan,” with an attached article about how much more expensive stents are in the U.S. than in other countries.

Direct attacks on age are frowned upon in modern campaigns, as evidenced by the side-door allusions to Biden’s age so far in this one. During the second presidential debate, for instance, Julián Castro was widely criticized for seeming to bait Biden, asking repeatedly if he had “already forgotten what you just said.”

But the Sanders campaign will still have to deal with the aftermath. Candidates and their advisers appear to have decided that this is not the day to question the senior senator’s health. That day will likely come, however, and soon.

Until then, the rather bland good wishes have been pouring in. “I hope to see my friend back on the campaign trail very soon,” Warren tweeted. Biden said: “We are confident he will have a full and speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him on the trail soon.”





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