Will This Lawmaker Be the First Incumbent to Lose This Primary Season?

Texan Ralph Hall has been clinging to his seat for a long time, but Tuesday’s election might mark the end.

Ralph Hall
National Journal
Billy House
May 27, 2014, 1 a.m.

At 91, Ral­ph Hall is the old­est law­maker to ever serve in the U.S. House and the last World War II vet­er­an seek­ing reelec­tion. But by Tues­day night, he might carry an­oth­er dis­tinc­tion as the first in­cum­bent to lose this primary sea­son.

Not a single mem­ber of the Sen­ate or House has lost a primary so far in 2014 des­pite na­tion­al polling that un­der­scores the un­pop­ular­ity of Con­gress. But in the north­east corner of the Lone Star State, in 18 counties along its bor­ders with Ok­lahoma, Arkan­sas, and Louisi­ana, from the Dal­las sub­urbs to Tex­arkana, Hall is in real danger of fail­ing in his bid for an 18th term in Con­gress.

John Ratcliffe, 48, a former U.S. At­tor­ney for the East­ern Dis­trict of Texas and a former may­or of Heath, got tired of wait­ing for Hall to re­tire. After stand­ing by as the long-time law­maker prom­ised in every cycle for the past eight years that this one would be his last, Ratcliffe launched an ag­gress­ive cam­paign to take the job away. And he’s un­abashedly try­ing to define the race as a ref­er­en­dum on Hall’s age.

“John got tired of wait­ing for him, wait­ing in the wings,” said Tony Fisk, the Rock­wall County GOP chair­man.

From the start of his cam­paign, in an ini­tial field of five GOP primary chal­lengers, Ratcliffe de­scribed his can­did­acy as a “new gen­er­a­tion of Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship” and ques­tioned the length of Hall’s 34-year ten­ure. It was a mes­sage that would gain some mo­mentum.

When the con­gress­man failed, sur­pris­ingly, to gain 50 per­cent of the vote (46 per­cent) in the six-way March primary, it was Ratcliffe who se­cured the second run­off spot with 29 per­cent of the primary vote. Three of the oth­er chal­lengers then en­dorsed Ratcliffe, and one backed Hall. Ratcliff also grabbed the en­dorse­ment of The Dal­las Morn­ing News, which ap­plauded Hall’s long ser­vice but also said, “There comes a time when new ideas and fresh en­ergy are needed.”

And just like that, the tone for the rest of the cam­paign was set, with Hall’s age dom­in­at­ing Ratcliffe’s cam­paign mes­saging. For in­stance, Ratcliffe said dur­ing a May 22 ap­pear­ance on MS­N­BC that Hall’s age is something that is a fair is­sue for voters to con­sider. He even went as far as to say, “I think it’s something that the voters are con­cerned about.”

Hall hasn’t helped per­cep­tions by re­fus­ing to de­bate Ratcliffe, ar­gued Wal­ter Ca­sey, a polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist at Texas A&M Uni­versity at Tex­arkana. But Ca­sey cau­tioned that Ratcliffe might have taken this strategy too far. “It’s come off like he is anti-age. It’s not just that he’s im­plied that Ral­ph Hall was too old, but also was that he is not think­ing straight — or that voters should worry about that,” Ca­sey said.

In­deed, the race has be­come so dom­in­ated by Hall’s age that some Texas Re­pub­lic­ans are warn­ing against read­ing any deep­er mean­ing in­to Tues­day night’s res­ults. Fisk said that any­one try­ing to use this race as a gauge for un­der­stand­ing voters’ sup­port of tea-party can­did­ates over the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment is miss­ing the mark.

It is true that Hall was one of the last so-called Yel­low Dog Demo­crats in Con­gress, a liv­ing vestige of the evol­u­tion of Texas polit­ics in the late 20th cen­tury. But Hall had a con­ser­vat­ive vot­ing re­cord even be­fore he form­ally switched parties to the GOP in 2003, as a mat­ter of polit­ic­al sur­viv­al fol­low­ing re­dis­trict­ing in 2001. And he has con­tinu­ally main­tained that re­cord.

In ad­di­tion, both men have back­ing from vari­ous tea-party or con­ser­vat­ive politi­cians and or­gan­iz­a­tions. Ratcliffe has grabbed the en­dorse­ments of the Club for Growth and the Madis­on Pro­ject, as well as the Tea Party Ex­press. But Hall is backed by Rep. Michele Bach­mann, Rep. Trey Gowdy, former Rep. Ron Paul, former Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, and former Arkan­sas Gov. Mike Hucka­bee.

Neither can­did­ate has held an over­whelm­ing ad­vant­age in cam­paign money. Both have raised about $1 mil­lion. But Ratcliffe was aided by a $575,300 loan he’s giv­en his own cam­paign. Hall has giv­en his cam­paign a $130,000 loan.

Some re­cent pub­lic polling has shown double-di­git leads for Ratcliffe. But ex­perts in the dis­trict see that as de­ceiv­ing be­cause ac­tu­al voter turnout is ex­pec­ted to be ex­tremely low — as low as 10 per­cent of all en­rolled dis­trict Re­pub­lic­ans. And, Ca­sey pre­dicts, “If the Ral­ph Hall base shows up en­er­gized — voters who are 55 and up — Ral­ph wins.”

Hall’s cam­paign de­clined to com­ment or provide the House mem­ber for an in­ter­view.

But in re­cent days, his cam­paign de­cided he needed to ad­dress the sug­ges­tion that he is too old in a sprightly and spir­ited com­mer­cial.

“When you battle Nancy Pelosi as much as I have, you’re bound to get a few wrinkles,” jokes Hall in the ad, re­fer­ring to the House Demo­crat­ic lead­er. He points to wrinkles in his face. “And, by gosh,” says Hall, “I’ve got room for a few more wrinkles.”

MOST READ
What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
3 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
4 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×