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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2020, file photo President-elect Joe Biden rides a bike at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Del. President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Joe Biden turned 78 on Friday. In two months, he'll take the reins of a politically fractured nation facing the worst public health crisis in a century, high unemployment and a reckoning on racial injustice.

As he wrestles with those issues, Biden will be attempting to accomplish another feat: demonstrate to Americans that age is but a number and that he's up to the job.

Biden will be sworn in as the oldest president in the nation's history, displacing Ronald Reagan, who left the White House in 1989 when he was 77 years and 349 days old.

The age and health of Biden and President Donald Trump -- less than four years Biden's junior -- loomed throughout a race that was decided by a younger and more diverse electorate and at a moment when the nation is facing no shortage of issues of consequence.

Out of the gate, Biden needs to demonstrate that he's got the vigor to serve, experts say.

"It's crucial that he and his staff put himself in the position early in his presidency where he can express what he wants with a crispness that's not always been his strength," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has advised legislators from both parties. "He has got to build up credibility with the American people that he's physically and mentally up to the job."

Throughout the campaign, Trump, 74, highlighted Biden's gaffes and argued that the Democrat lacked the mental acuity to lead the nation. Critics and some backers of Biden worried that he was sending the wrong message about his stamina by keeping a relatively light public schedule while Trump barnstormed battleground states. Biden attributed his light schedule to being cautious during the pandemic.

Some of Biden's rivals in the Democratic primary also made a case on age by raising the question of whether someone of Biden's and Trump's generation was the right person to lead a nation dealing with issues like climate change and racial inequality.

Brian Ott, a Missouri State University communications professor who studies presidential rhetoric, said Biden was hardly impressive as a campaigner, but has proven far more effective with his public remarks since Election Day.

Ott said Biden's victory speech was poignant, and his empathy showed in a virtual discussion that he held earlier this week with frontline health care workers. The president-elect's experience -- a combination of age and nearly 50 years in politics -- conveys more clearly through the prism of governing than the chaos of campaigning, he said.

"The rhetoric of governing, unlike the rhetoric of campaigning, is collaborative rather than adversarial," Ott said.

Biden's age also puts a greater premium on the quality of his staff, Baker said. His choice of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, nearly 20 years younger than he is, as his running mate effectively acknowledged his age issue. Biden has described himself as a transitional president but hasn't ruled out running for a second term.

"He's well served in making it known from Day One that she's ready to go," Baker said of Harris. "She's got to be in the images coming out of the White House. They also need to, in terms of their messaging, highlight her inclusion in whatever the important issue or debate is going on in the White House."

Biden, in a September interview with CNN, promised to be "totally transparent" about all facets of his health if elected, but he hasn't said how he'll do that.

His physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor, in a medical report released by the campaign in December, described Biden as "healthy, vigorous ... fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief."

O'Connor reported that Biden works out five days a week. The president-elect told supporters that during the pandemic he has relied on home workouts involving a Peloton bike, treadmill and weights.

In 1988, Biden suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms, an experience that he wrote in his memoir shaped him into the "kind of man I want to be." O'Connor also noted in his report that Biden has an irregular heartbeat, but it has not required any medication or other treatment. He also had his gallbladder removed in 2003.

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 1972 file photo, the newly-elected Democratic senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 1972 file photo, the newly-elected Democratic senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2020, file photo then-Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives with his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to speak in Wilmington, Del.  President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2020, file photo then-Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives with his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to speak in Wilmington, Del. President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2020, file photo President-elect Joe Biden smiles as he speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2020, file photo President-elect Joe Biden smiles as he speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. President-elect Biden turns 78 on Friday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
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