Ralph Hall, oldest congressman, loses to Texas tea party challenger

Congressman+Ralph+Hall+smiles+during+a+tour+of+his+home+in+Rockwall+on+Tuesday+The+91-year-old+is+the+oldest-ever+member+of+the+U.S.+House.+He+faces+the+toughest+test+of+his+political+career%2C+as+he+tries+to+beat++a+tea+party-backed+Republican+primary+challenger+in+a+runoff+election.+Hall+won+the+first+bout%2C+but+did+not+receive+enough+votes+to+win+a+majority+and+avoid+the+runoff.+%28LM+Otero%2FThe+Associated+Press%29

Congressman Ralph Hall smiles during a tour of his home in Rockwall on Tuesday The 91-year-old is the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House. He faces the toughest test of his political career, as he tries to beat a tea party-backed Republican primary challenger in a runoff election. Hall won the first bout, but did not receive enough votes to win a majority and avoid the runoff. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

Zane Sparling

Congressman Ralph Hall smiles during a tour of his home in Rockwall on Tuesday The 91-year-old is the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House. He faces the toughest test of his political career, as he tries to beat  a tea party-backed Republican primary challenger in a runoff election. Hall won the first bout, but did not receive enough votes to win a majority and avoid the runoff. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)
Congressman Ralph Hall smiles during a tour of his home in Rockwall on Tuesday. The 91-year-old is the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House. He lost Tuesday to a tea party-backed Republican primary challenger in a runoff election. Hall won the first bout, but did not receive enough votes to win a majority and avoid the runoff. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press

A 91-year-old Texas congressman who first won his seat when Jimmy Carter was president faced the toughest test of his political career Tuesday from a Republican primary challenger half his age. And he lost.

Ralph Hall, who first ran for political office in 1950 and is the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House, has promised that should he win an 18th term, it’ll be his last. But his opponent, John Ratcliffe, 48, ousted him in a primary runoff Tuesday.

With no Democratic candidate, the Ratcliffe will run unopposed in November.

The district stretches from suburban Dallas to the Louisiana and Oklahoma borders and features an airport, expressway and man-made lake project named after him.

In the March primary, Hall won 45 percent of the vote compared to Ratcliffe’s nearly 29 percent, but since no one won a majority in a six-way race, Hall was forced into the first runoff of his congressional career. Second rounds of voting often feature low turnout — especially following a holiday weekend. Fierce anti-incumbent voters typically are more motivated to turn out.

A former U.S. attorney, Ratcliffe has used modern analytics to better target would-be voters. He also has won the support of powerful national conservative groups with strong tea party ties, including the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund.

Hall has relied on more-traditional campaign tactics, using direct mailings and walking the district, interacting with voters and handing out pennies fitted with bands bearing his name. Since 2010, campaign finance records show Hall spent more than $34,000 on hams from HoneyBaked Hams — which aides said were gifts for constituents.

As an indication of how seriously Hall is taking Ratcliffe, the congressman recently loaned his campaign $100,000, the first such loan in at least a decade.

Hall, though, bristles at the notion that he’s not conservative enough. He’s been endorsed by tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and leading Christian conservative voice and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Last week, conservative grassroots superstar and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas praised Hall’s courage while presenting him with an award for his military service. Hall is the only World War II veteran left in Congress seeking re-election.

“He’s running against my birth certificate,” Hall said of Ratcliffe.

Shortly after leaving a polling site Tuesday in the Dallas suburb of Celina, Joe Stalling said that Hall’s World War II service is a primary reason the 59-year-old attorney voted to re-elect him.

“He’s never voted in any way I’ve disagreed with,” Stalling said.

But Stallings also said he didn’t notice much in their campaign platforms that separates the two candidates.

“There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between those two, it’s just one is older than the other,” Stalling said.

An avid jogger, Hall went skydiving when facing a 2012 primary challenge and had planned to do so twice this year but canceled due to icy conditions. Instead, he made a playful television ad pointing to the wrinkles on his face and calling them scars of congressional fights with liberals.

Ratcliffe has said repeatedly he hasn’t made age an issue, arguing instead that Hall has become too cozy with the GOP establishment after 34 years in office. He conceded though, that in addition to Hall’s record or wanting to send an anti-incumbency message, some voters “specifically cite his age.”

“I think it’s fair to consider that,” Ratcliffe said. “They’re raising it as a reason.”

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