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

yea right

and you wonder why America can not move forward..old farts stuck in the past..

coasterfan

Yup, and isn't it funny that they think Hillary's age (late 60's) is an issue, considering Reagan was in office well into his 80's. Personally, I find it a bit scary that we now know that the guy with the key to the nukes in the 1980's likely had early Alzheimer's while still in office.

Theirs is a party of old, stodgy white men, so we probably shouldn't be surprised that they nominate people like McCain and Romney. McCain was over 70 during the 2008 race, but appeared to have the body of someone 20 years older than that.

Meh. As long as formaldehyde is still available, the GOP will keep trotting out octegenarians that have absolutely no clue what it's like to be a middle class American in the 21st century.

Still, it might be a good thing that Republicans vote 90-year-olds into office. Maybe Hall can talk some sense into his fellow conservatives re: Climate Change, since he was here during the last Ice Age.

rbenn

And democrats keep re electing Harry Ried. whats your point

Donegan

I do not find Hillary's age as a obstacle, I see her as a liar, Hypocrite and a unscrupulous person who should not be trusted with lunch money let alone launch codes. When was the last time hillary or Obama was middle class? Hint: Gated communities and backroom deals ripping off middle class people do not make you one.

grumpy

Re: "Yup, and isn't it funny that they think Hillary's age (late 60's) is an issue, considering Reagan was in office well into his 80's. Personally, I find it a bit scary that we now know that the guy with the key to the nukes in the 1980's likely had early Alzheimer's while still in office."

If you wish to look up Reagan's age when he was sworn into office... and compare it to what Hillary would be if she was elected... Both 69, Reagan was almost 70 and Clinton will be 69 1/2, He was 6 months older than she would be if elected. If you are worried about Alzheimers affecting a President, as you stated above, you would not be trying to back Clinton.... But if all you are is a biased "party" hack... you are then simply a hypocrite... Or most likely a biased hypocrite. Thank you for being a fine example of a Liberal Progressive Democrat.... unless of course that now that you know the facts about about Reagan's and Clintons ages you denounce Clinton as much as you did Reagan. Then I will apologise profusely.

coasterfan

My point is: please re-read the headline. "Oldest-ever Congressman".

Harry is 74, and he is your example of an Old Democrat? At 74, he's almost young enough to be Ralph Hall's son. If Reid were in the GOP, he'd be called a "rising young star".

Why not quit while you're behind? I believe TBS is showing reruns of "Father Knows Best". Hurry, you don't want to miss it, do you?

I

Actually, your point is that you are an age bigot. At 90 years old, he could still be sharp as a tack and able to do his job very well. Your prejudicial thought process is no different than those of other ordinary common bigots and racists of the world. Or, do you feel that way because he has an "R" by his name?

coasterfan

LOL. I'm not an age bigot, but rather was pointing out that many Republicans ARE, but only when it comes to women. In their world, a man can be a 90-year-old politician, but if a 69-year-old woman wants to run for office, it's an issue.

I

Sorry, but you are an age bigot. And it was your party that felt she wasn't qualified to run for president when compared to a junior senator with virtually no political experience.

Dr. Information

coaster making up stats and fairytales again. wow.

Darwin's choice

Democrats should serve two terms, one in office, the other, and longer, should be in federal prison!

pntbutterandjelly

Coasterfan....with each passing post...you are getting better and better and BETTER! LONG LIVE THE BLUESTREAK! (lol)

paws4thought

The problem is not with Ralph Hill who, at 90, is way over the hill or that Harry Reid, at 74, is one step removed from a blithering idiot, but that both have been in Congress 30-40 years and they keep being voted in to office by a mostly uninformed and self-motivated electorate. As Pogo said, "We has met the enemy and they is us."

downthemiddle

"uninformed and self motivated"..... the backbone of the democrat party.

obamaphones and free stuff...

coasterfan

Speaking of "uninformed", apparently you aren't aware that the so-called Obamaphone program was started by George W. Bush?

downthemiddle

Then, pray tell, why are they called obamaphones?

Try again.

pntbutterandjelly

Paws4thought...
U R correct and...
thank you!"

PTBarnumWouldBeProud

.....actually, President Reagan left office at age 77. Semantics, but he wasn't "well into his 80's."

He did leave office well into the 80's.....the 1980's. :)

deertracker

90 is just too old. Go play with your great grand kids. Reagan was a liar. Remember "I can't remember" over and over again after the Iran-Contra debacle?

What's Hillary's lie?

downthemiddle

What difference does it make?

Wanna talk about Bill's lies? Definition of sex...

deertracker

I repeat: What's Hillary's lie?

Dr. Information

That she is a full blown lesbian and knew about Bill's affairs and participated in them. Oh and then there is Benghazi, but what does that matter now.

I

We all know senior citizens who are not capable. But, to just look at his age and declare "90 is just too old" would be the same as saying that because Obama is such a poor president, we should never elect another black man to that office. That's the problem with liberals, they think that it's everyone else who are bigots, but never look in the mirror!

deertracker

Obama is NOT a poor president. You are just bitter because your guy LOST! LOSER!

I

I see you're having a tough time grasping the concept, so, I'll try to type slower for you. Your perception of senior citizens, that you think you know, is that they are incapable and, therefor, all seniors are incapable. That's called bigotry. Those who PERCEIVE Obama to be a poor president and and will never vote for a black man again because of that perception, are racists. By the way, those who voted for Obama just because he is black, and those who will vote for Hillary because she is a woman also fall into this category. I hope this makes it a little easier for you and those like you.

I

"Obama is NOT a poor president. You are just bitter because your guy LOST! LOSER!" Why do I envision deertracker stomping his feet and holding his breath?

deertracker

LOSER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I

LOL!

coasterfan

Exactly.

downthemiddle

Well, dems... you might just want to do Wikipedia on this.. they have a nice 2 color list.

Turns out that democrats are by FAR the best at this. At almost 88, John Dingell from Michigan is the longest serving at 58 yrs, 137 days. He has been a congressman since Dec. 13, 1955. That's a long time

The second currently active longest is Conyers, also from Michigan.. at 49 years 116 days. He is in 8th place. ALL older are democrats.

The first Republicans are in 11th place and 14th place, and are not serving.

The first 100 places are heavily democrat.

Simply Google ''Longest serving congressman'' and see what's true.

..As to Ralph Hall, the list stops at 103 places... he is not on the list.

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