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
Add to Briefcase
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.”

What We're Following See More »
DOCUMENTS OBTAINED BY U.S. INTEL
Putin-Linked Think Tank Developed Plan to Influence U.S. Election
3 days ago
THE LATEST

A Russian government think tank run by Putin loyalists "developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system." Two confidential documents from the Putin-backed Institute for Strategic Studies, obtained by U.S. intelligence, provide "the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election."

Source:
HELPED WIN FISA APPROVAL
FBI Relied on Dossier Allegations to Monitor Page
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification" to monitor Carter Page, who was then a defense adviser to the Trump campaign. "The dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks."

Source:
AIR FORCE SCRAMBLES JETS IN RESPONSE
Russian Bombers Fly Near Alaska
5 days ago
WHY WE CARE
A MESSAGE TO RUSSIA?
Pentagon Deploying F-35s to Europe
1 weeks ago
THE LATEST

"The Air Force is set to deploy its high-tech, fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets to Europe this weekend as part of an effort to assure U.S. allies there who are worried about Russian aggression." The new, state-of-the-art fighters will train with European air units. "The Pentagon noted that the deployment had been long planned, meaning it was not a reaction to recent increasing tensions between the United States and Russia," although a statement noted the move is part of the "European Reassurance Initiative," which began three years ago when Russia annexed Crimea.

Source:
NOT ON SCHEDULE
Tillerson Meets Putin
1 weeks ago
BREAKING
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login