Congress’s oldest member may be its first incumbent to lose his seat on Tuesday.
Rep. Ralph HallRalph HallGOP fights off primary challengers in deep-red Texas Most diverse Congress in history poised to take power Lawmakers pay tribute to Rep. Ralph Hall MORE (R-Texas), who recently turned 91, is facing a hard-fought runoff challenge from former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe (R).
Hall has stepped up his game since he was caught sleeping in the first round of voting, when Ratcliffe and other candidates held him to 45 percent, an outcome his campaign had confidently predicted wouldn’t happen.
The 17-term incumbent has spent more time back in his northeast Texas district since the runoff began and upped his fundraising, driven in large part by help from old friends in Congress and the Texas congressional delegation. But it’s unclear whether Hall has recovered fast enough to hold onto his seat for what he’s already said will be his last term in Congress.
Ratcliffe has been pounding Hall on his three decades in the House, blaming him for the growth in the federal deficit and for failing to stand up to GOP leadership. The insurgent has raced around the district to convince voters who know Hall well that he’s been there too long with little to show for it, painting himself as the more conservative alternative.
“If you want more of the same, Congressman Hall will certainly provide that. He's been there for 34 years and he wants two more years to provide more of the same,” Ratcliffe told The Hill. “People feel Washington has never been more broken and that they want a real fighter as opposed to someone who's just going to be a go along to get along politician.”
The primary challenger is four decades younger than Hall and has racked up endorsements from national conservative groups since he forced the runoff. The Club for Growth has helped bundle $130,000 for him and has sent out mail pieces on his behalf. Senate Conservatives Fund has also been on radio touting his candidacy, and the Madison Project sent mailers. Now or Never PAC also ran an ad attacking Hall for his decades in office.
Hall has belatedly stepped up his fight after mostly ignoring Ratcliffe in the first round of voting. Since March, he’s been up with ads attacking Ratcliffe’s law career and accusing him of supporting tax increases while mayor of small-town Heath.
“There’s been a definite momentum shift,” said Hall advisor Ed Valentine. “We're very pleased people are coming out of the woodwork to support congressman hall both financially and volunteering.”
Ratcliffe has outspent him, but Hall has also leant himself $100,000 for the closing days of the campaign. And he’s recently rolled out endorsements from a number of politicians that have known him for decades — including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Typically low turnout runoff elections are notoriously hard to predict, and there’s been no reliable public polling of the race. Plus, this is the first time in Texas history that the election has been held the day after Memorial Day, which may further depress what’s already expected to be meager turnout. Both sides expect a close race, but the fact that the Club hasn’t spent more may be security that Ratcliffe is in good shape to win without more help.
“We're extremely confident John Ratcliffe will be victorious on Election Day. He's clearly articulated a constitutional conservative message that appeals to the voters of this district,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller.
Hall may not be the only longtime Lone Star Republican to fall short on Tuesday. Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), a wealthy self-funder who has been in office for more than a decade, finished well behind Tea Party candidate and state Sen. Dan Patrick (R) in the first round of voting. Dewhurst’s approval ratings never recovered after his primary loss to now-Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) two years ago, and Patrick appears to have the upper hand in what’s been a particularly nasty and personal campaign including a bizarre viral attack ad from Dewhurst that was a “Frozen” parody.
If it’s Patrick who wins, state Democrats are optimistic they could win the state’s No. 2 slot with state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D), the gubernatorial ticketmate of Democratic favorite Wendy Davis.
While Dewhurst and Hall are trying to hang on, former Rep. Quico Canseco (R-Texas) is simply hoping for a comeback. Canseco and former CIA agent Will Hurd (R) are locked in a tight primary to face off against Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas) this fall — Hurd finished the first round of voting with 41 percent to Canseco’s 40 percent.
The contest is important for GOP in the only true competitive general election seat left in the state, but Hurd isn’t the ideal general election candidate because he’s an Anglo in the heavily Hispanic district. Still, Canseco has faced mounting questions about his campaign finances, and the Federal Election Commission is investigating whether he used nearly $90,000 he borrowed from a Mexico-based company for his 2010 campaign, a possible campaign finance violation.
Republicans will also choose who will replace Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) in his heavily conservative district after the conservative provocateur fell far short in his quixotic bid against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). GOP strategists say former Woodville Mayor Brian Babin (R) likely has the edge over businessman Ben Streusland (R) in the runoff.
Democrats have a contested Senate primary of their own, one in which they hope they don’t embarrass themselves. Wealthy businessman David Alameel (D) was held to less than the 50 percent needed to win the Democratic primary by fringe candidate Kesha Rogers (D), a supporter of conspiracy theorist and gadfly presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
Alameel is favored in the runoff, but the fact that he didn’t win outright in the first place is a sign the party isn’t in as good shape statewide as it would hope. Still, either candidate is a longshot against Cornyn in the conservative state.