During my recent marathoning of House of Cards Season 4, I couldn't help but notice the stark contrast between incumbent President Frank Underwood and his Republican competitor in the election, Will Conway, the young and virile governor of New York. Conway is everything Frank is not — he's a family man, social media and seflie savvy, and, most distinctly, very youthful. But does any of that actually matter? Is Conway even old enough to run for president in the first place? Barely — in the Netflix series, Conway is 36 years old, and so he just makes the cut for the U.S. age of candidacy, which is set at 35 by the U.S. Constitution.
And it'd be extremely unlikely that someone that young actually ran for president, like Conway is doing in House of Cards. Despite 35 being the minimum age to run for commander-in-chief, Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest sworn-in president at age 42, so Conway could be the youngest (fictional) commander-in-chief of all time. In real life, Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are 44 and 45, respectively. Current President Barack Obama was 47 years old when he was sworn into the Oval Office back in 2009.
So why is age 35 the beginning of a politician's potential presidential era? According to USA Today, the American Founding Fathers chose that age because it signifies wisdom and maturity, but life expectancy wasn't as long back then as it is now. CNN contributor and Princeton professor Julian Zelizer said that age isn't a huge factor in electing a president, but it can come into play subconsciously for voters. "A young person can be ill. An older person can be sharp and totally on top of it," Zelizer said. "Obama benefited from this desire for something new. [Voters think] if you're young, you won't be stuck in 'older' issues, debates or fights -- that you'll move beyond the status quo. It's not always correct, but it's the perception."
But it's not like young people haven't held American political office before. According to Slate, 1 percent of Congress was under the age of 35 in 2014 — and the minimum age to take office as part of the House of Representatives is just 25. John Tyler Hammons was elected as mayor of Muskogee, Okla. at age 19 in 2008 and Daniel Hernandez, Jr. became a Congressman at 24, since he would turn 25 less than a month after being sworn in, reported Slate. That makes House of Cards' Conway much more believable, doesn't it?
Still, that doesn't mean Conway is a shoo-in for President. According to the New York State Board of Elections, the Empire State requires its governor to be 30 years of age, so I'm going to guess that Conway took office as a wunderkind governor at 30 or 31 and is using the momentum from his gubernatorial reelection to run for president. But in order to even run for commander-in-chief, the Governor would probably need at least one full four-year term working at the head of state's government to gain experience.
But he does have a lot working in his favor. Remember that on the show, Conway enlisted in the Air Force right after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when he was 21 — because, as he told Frank in a flashback from House of Cards' 2012, he had political ambitions even back then. It sounds like age is just a number for Will Conway, but will it work to his advantage? Perhaps the next season of House of Cards will reveal the answer.
Images: David Giesbrecht (2)/Netflix; Giphy