Conservative groups gang up on Congress's oldest member

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Congress may soon lose its oldest member.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), who turns 91 next week, is in the fight of his political life, facing a better-funded challenger who held him to less than 50 percent of the vote in March to force a runoff.

The 17-term veteran is scrambling for money to ward off former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe (R), a self-funder who's recently netted endorsements from a bevy of conservative groups. 

Ratcliffe, 48, has been running to Hall’s right, labeling him as part of the anachronistic old guard of the GOP.

“I've made tenure a bigger issue than anything else. The fact that Congressman Hall has been in there 34 years is anathema to the Constitution, and that's a really big issue for people,” Ratcliffe told The Hill in a recent interview. “And Congressman Hall is not nearly as conservative as he sometimes gets credit for — his voting record is all across the board and as people are looking more closely they see that.”

He has already loaned his campaign $575,000, and told The Hill he was willing to invest more in the race if he needs to ahead of the May 27 runoff.

Ratcliffe is also getting help from a number of Washington-based conservative groups, all of whom have endorsed him since he won 29 percent and held Hall to 46 percent of the vote on March 4. 

The Club for Growth endorsed him in late March and has already bundled $50,000 for Ratcliffe’s campaign, while the Senate Conservatives Fund has raised a combined $20,000 for him so far.

The Madison Project, another conservative group, said it plans to run radio ads and robo-calls on Ratcliffe’s behalf. The Now or Never super-PAC has run TV ads attacking Hall on his age. 

Hall’s campaign had just $180,000 in the bank as of the beginning of March. A Hall adviser admits he’ll likely be outspent, but downplays money’s importance.

“If money wins campaigns then David Dewhurst would be the senator from Texas and not Ted Cruz,” Hall adviser Ed Valentine told The Hill, referencing the multimillionaire self-funding lieutenant governor that Cruz defeated in 2012. “I fully expect [the campaign] to be outspent again, but I fully expect to get more votes than John Ratcliffe again.”

Nevertheless, they’ve been rushing to catch up in fundraising. On Wednesday, Hall attended a big-dollar fundraiser in Dallas that brought in more than $35,000 and was attended by Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas). 

Nearly all members of Texas’s GOP congressional delegation — with the notable exception of Sen. Ted Cruz — helped out with a recent Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Hall that brought in more than $50,000. He’s also been touting an endorsement from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).

Ratcliffe ripped Hall for fundraising with the rest of the delegation. 

“They've got a club and they don't want new members they aren't sure will play by the rules,” he said. “They see it as something they're supposed to do to rally to support a member just because he's a part of their fraternity when in fact this is a process that's supposed to be governed by and dictated by the voters. They've lost touch.” 

Valentine fired back, attacking Ratcliffe for his outside support.

“It's interesting that Ratcliffe has all this outside money coming in, says he's running a positive campaign but chides Ralph for having an event in Dallas,” Hall’s adviser said. “You have every congressman from Texas backing Ralph, and he says 'well, they're all Washington insiders.' They're Texans.”

Ratcliffe has also been accusing Hall of avoiding debates against him, which the congressman’s campaign denies. Still, it could further a narrative back home he’s not up to the grueling campaign of the next month.  

“Ralph Hall is not in that strong a position. He's been around for a very long time and his constituents honor and respect his service but they know he's very old at this point, they're willing to give Ratcliffe a look,” said professor Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University outside of Dallas. “Ratcliffe is going to outspend him. But I would be surprised if [Hall’s] longevity and name recognition didn't draw him through.”

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