Oldest-ever congressman faces biggest challenge

Texas Republican Ralph Hall, 90, challenged by 48-year-old backed by national conservative groups
Associated Press
Apr 29, 2014

When he was a boy and working in a pharmacy in this town east of Dallas, Ralph Hall once sold cigarettes and Coca-Cola to Bonnie and Clyde, the notorious bank robbers who would later die in a hail of lawmen gunfire.

Now 90 and the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House, Hall is facing a potential political shootout of his own — against a Republican primary challenger barely half his age, backed by national conservative groups and well-schooled in digital- and data-heavy modern campaigning.

It's shaping up to be a test of whether old-style, face-to-face campaigning can prevail against the new election engineering and organizational techniques that are coming to dominate American politics. Is Hall's vast political experience still an asset or simply proof he's out of touch with today's conservatives?

"I'm doing the same thing that I've always done," the 17-term incumbent said amid a "Band of Brothers" happy hour at a Rockwall country club. Most Friday afternoons, Hall, who flew Hellcat fighters during World War II, hops a plane from Washington to Texas, then heads straight to the weekly gathering of U.S. military veterans.

That routine may no longer be enough. Hall's district is safely Republican but he captured just 45 percent of the vote against five challengers in last month's primary, and has been forced into his first runoff since being elected to Congress in 1980. His opponent, 48-year-old former U.S. attorney John Ratcliffe, won 29 percent and has been endorsed by powerful tea-party-aligned organizations, including the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, who see Ratcliffe as the race's only true conservative.

A former mayor of the town of Heath, Ratcliffe said he knows he's challenging an institution in the district of big-city suburbs and small towns that stretches to the Louisiana and Arkansas borders.

"I'm running against a guy who has an airport, highway and lake named after him," Ratcliffe said, referring to Rockwall's municipal airport, and a nearby expressway and man-made lake project.

Hall, who turns 91 before the May 27 runoff, shrugs off tea party suggestions he's a Washington insider.

"I just tell them, 'Look at my record. I vote with my party when I can. I vote with my district every time," said Hall, who described his campaign strategy as "walking through every courthouse and walking the cities in the district."

An avid jogger, Hall moves at a brisk pace as he meets passers-by, stopping frequently to chat or hand out pennies fitted with a special silver band bearing his name. He also mails the coins around the district, and when aides tried to scrap the program for something more-modern, they got an earful from supporters wondering about pennies they were used to receiving.

Known in Congress for promoting NASA and energy production, Hall largely forgoes formal campaign stops, instead attending Republican breakfast gatherings or just encountering voters while out and about. Joe Lynch, 65, says he'll remain a Hall supporter for life after running into him at Wal-Mart.

"I saw him coming up the aisle by himself just as unassuming as he could be," Lynch said. "His car with House plates was in the parking lot. How many members of Congress do you think actually shop at Wal-Mart?"

Ratcliffe, by contrast, exploits Web-based advertising and has hired an analytics firm for micro-targeting.

"We've tried to use that to better define and identify the voters within this district and folks that would be supportive of me," Ratcliffe said. He said he hasn't made Hall's age an issue but, "I put him in a class of career politician that has gone to Washington, stayed too long, promised too much and become part of the problem."

In 2012, Hall went skydiving two days before the Republican primary. This time, he made a playful television ad calling his wrinkles political battle scars.

Since the primary, his campaign hired a former Reagan administration media relations director, as well as a veteran of the Republican National Committee chairman's office.

The congressman recently lent his campaign $100,000, his first personal loan in recent memory. Ratcliffe, meanwhile, has given his campaign about $575,000 and said he's ready to spend more. He's also expecting outside groups to spend enough to shape the race.

Hall knows his age is an issue. He even referred to a rumor that his congressional office still uses typewriters (it doesn't.)

But he's not reluctant to describe his brush with Bonnie and Clyde, who Hall remembers from the early 1930s when they "bought two cartons of Old Golds, two Coca-Colas and all the newspapers we had."

"He was a funny looking little guy. She was acceptable looking," Hall said. "I saw them. But I don't think it's that unusual. They were a lot of places."

 

Comments

Darwin's choice

Did coastertroll just get owned?????

Hahahahahahahaha!!!!

obama/fail

coasterfan

Congrats. Score one for you.

Now that you've had your first win in an online political debate, why not try for a win on a topic that actually matters?

Dr. Information

So it mattered until you got owned. Coaster, you get owned each time you type. Aren't you tired yet?

pntbutterandjelly

"Yes" he may be tired of trying to talk with intelligence, grace and common sense with blow-gut republicans like yourself.

Dr. Information

And he gets owned left and right. Game over, thanks for playing.

Darwin's choice

And, bigger yet, he's admitting to being a troll!

Scumbag, go post your obama/snake oil someplace else!

Troll/failure

KURTje

Yeah 90 is too old. Could he operate heavy equipment? How's his driving record? (remember Gene Damschorder's plane crash/deaths) Check on Florida's driving rules for seniors. Facts are at that age he should be around his great grand kids not in government. His time is past & younger/middle aged people need their futures protected.

Dr. Information

WTF does running heavy equipment and running this country have to do with each other. My God you are babbling idiot.

pntbutterandjelly

What he is referring to Dr. is the bulldozing the Republican party is doing to the middle class. (FYI)

pntbutterandjelly

Regardless of party....I would be in favor of age limits as well as term limits. "Too long" in office equates into "too tied" to special interests. "Too old" equates into "too stuck" in the past. Fresh energy and ideas will cure a lot of our woes. Next up..."too much" campaign money equals "too indebted" to think and act in a rash manner FOR the country. (regardless of party)

I

Pbj, I guess we can look forward to your opposition to Marcy Kaptur's campaign as she runs for her 17th election. I agree with you, at 67 years old, she should be playing with her grandchildren and not the special interests. It's refreshing to know that you, unlike others, will not be voting for her simply because she's a dem. Glad you're no hypocrite!

sugar

You freaking liberal bigots....you're "too ignorant". Age limits? Liberals are so screwed up they think an older person is stuck in the past? SMH. Unbelievable. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Term limits is what we are looking for, not limits on knowledge and wisdom.

pntbutterandjelly

Sugar...most people past 75, including this guy, are well past remembering what real cognitive thinking is nor do they care. It's just the facts. sorry

"Term limits "ARE" (not "is") what we are looking for, not limits on knowledge and wisdom." {I'll bet you are well past 75 yourself.}That typo of yours only proves that we can not believe when you talk about "knowledge and wisdom" can we?
GEESH!
(I'm pulling your leg.)

I

pbj, actually, Sugar used the word "is" correctly in this sentence and you are mistaken. I guess it's your "knowledge and wisdom" that we cannot(yes, one word) believe.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

AMENDMENT XXVIII: An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Members of Congress

SECTION 1: No person may serve more than twelve years as a member of Congress, whether such service is exclusively in the House or the Senate or combined in both Houses.

SECTION 2: Upon ratification of this Article, any incumbent member of Congress whose term exceeds the twelve-year limit shall complete the current term, but thereafter shall be ineligible for further service as a member of Congress.

= = = = = = = = = =

AMENDMENT XXVIX: An Amendment to Restore the Senate

SECTION 1: The Seventeenth Amendment is hereby repealed. All Senators shall be chosen by their state legislatures as prescribed by Article I.

SECTION 2: This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as a part of the Constitution.

SECTION 3: When vacancies occur in the representation of any State in the Senate for more than ninety days, the governor of the State shall appoint an individual to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term.

SECTION 4: A Senator may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature.

KURTje

Geez Dr...must be capable. Medical science proves much also at the age. You think you are a patriot because you target practice with beer bottles? pdb

Dr. Information

Past your prime old man. This coming from a guy who peeked in his 20s

looking around

The fun starts when the campaign heats up. Republicans have a penchant for running dirty smear ads attaching their opponent even that is is a fellow party member. All the dirt comes out in the wash as the feeding frenzy begins. The primary for the replacement of ousted republican congressman of Florida Trey Radel AKA the Coke Head, was a blast to watch, everything from pedophilia to money laundering and bribe taking on the part of every Republican candidate was plastered on the television for four months! They didn't have a single candidate that was worthy. Truly funny stuff!

I

Perhaps those candidates were trying to entice some democrat votes as most of those traits can be found in one or both of the last two democrat presidents.

looking around

"Perhaps those candidates were trying to entice some democrat votes" I guess the part you don't understand is that in a primary only those registered in the same party as the candidates can vote. Or perhaps you never have voted and thus are unaware of how it all works.

I

Actually, you can vote in either party primary by simply requesting that party's ballot at the polling place and, perhaps, signing a declaration form of some sort. Maybe you should know what you're talking about before making your snarky comments!

looking around

I guess you better check that out, in a primary where only one party is running only those registered voters of that party may vote. You may elect to change party affiliation before the eligibility date, however I myself would rather wait and vote for the Democrat. You deserved my snarky comments after yours!

I

Nope, you're still wrong, in fact, you're even more wrong because you overestimate your intelligence and snarkiness! http://tomwfox.wordpress.com/200.... Does explain why you'd vote for the dem.

The Big Dog's back

Like I've said before, Repubs running against each other is like a circular firing squad.

pntbutterandjelly

I LIKE that post Big Dog! And it's SO true too!!!

I

Looks like BigDog has his own cheerleader!

Darwin's choice

That would be "suckling"....!

Coasterfail under yet another crap spewing/obama propping/ loser backing alias.

pntbutterandjelly

Ralph Hall has become so senile that in 2004 he forgot which party he had belonged to for over a quarter century! That year he joined the ranks of the other old white guys party who need a pension and health care benefits for life provided by tax-paying Americans.

pntbutterandjelly

If we euthanized everyone over 60...our health insurance rates would drop by 63% and we could also cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and our roads would be much safer. It would also create a housing glut thus depreciating the cost of houses and apartments making it far more affordable for everyone else. It would also free up a lot of other natural resources not to mention the frustrating reality of having to wait for them to tell their stupid old stories that no one cares about. We could close down most nursing homes, assisted living quarters and hospice facilities. The economic gains are would be HUGE! (KIDDING!!!!!!!!) :)

Donegan

actually hit the nail on the head for what Progressives are shooting for. So you aren't kidding. Just look up what progressivism stands for then think next time you vote for someone who calls themselves a progressive.

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