The country’s oldest serving congressman was effectively booted off the Hill by a 48-year-old Tuesday night.
In a close runoff, incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall, 91, lost his bid to become the Republican nominee for Texas’ fourth Congressional district. Had he won, he would have been the only World War II veteran serving in Congress. (The other WWII vet, John Dingell, is set to retire at the end of his term.)
Hall’s primary challenger, John Ratcliffe, who in March managed to snag enough of the primary vote (29 percent to Hall’s 45 percent) to force Hall into a runoff election, beat Hall by 5.6 percentage points, 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent
Ratcliff, who said he couldn’t wait for Hall to retire, was always determined that the 17-term congressman wouldn’t get a shot at an 18th term.
“The reason I got in the race was the $17 trillion debt,” Ratcliffe told ABC News earlier this month. “Another two years – I’m afraid it will be $20 trillion … None of us can afford to wait.”
Ratcliffe swears he never made Hall’s age an issue – he focused on tenure while the voters latched onto age, he says – but his “Next Generation” ad certainly implies Hall may be over the hill.
“At 91, Ralph Hall has served admirably, but after four decades in Washington, the problems are getting worse … It’s time for leaders who are focused on the next generation,” Ratcliffe says in the ad.
Through the campaign, however, the House’s first nonagenarian – who, as one of his former opponents noted, began his political career in 1949, two years before “I Love Lucy” premiered – insisted he’s as spry as ever.
“If I wasn’t healthy as a radish … I wouldn’t be running,” he told KERA in February.
“Don’t know where all the time has gone.” he told his hometown paper on his 90thbirthday. “I’d like to get another shot at electing a Republican president and providing better leadership for our kids and grandkids.”
Hall’s defeat tonight marks the first time an opponent’s age-related attacks gained traction. But it’s not the first time an opponent has tried that tack.
In 2012, one opponent said age should be “a factor” and told the press that even his elderly mother thought it was time for Hall to go.
That same year, after rumors of a stroke sent his poll number reeling, Hall took what many would consider a drastic step: he went skydiving to prove his vitality.
He later acknowledged that the plunge, ostensibly in honor of military vets, was politically motivated.
“I thought if I could jump up and touch that airplane, they’d know I was able to be a dang good congressman,” he told the Dallas Morning News.
“Sometimes you have to do crazy things” to prove your worth, he added. Later that year, he was elected with a whopping 73 percent of the vote.
This year, Hall announced his 18th term would be his last. But it isn’t the first time he’s hinted that he only had a few more years left — in fact, he’s been saying that since his early 70s.
According to the Dallas Morning News, ”in 1994, he was ‘thinking about retiring.’ In 1996, he was ’99 percent sure I’m going for my last term.’ And in 2001, Hall said he would retire after President George W. Bush’s first term.”
Ratcliffe, on the other hand, has promised to limit himself to four terms.
The likely future congressman thanked his supporters on Twitter late Tuesday.
— John Ratcliffe (@RatcliffeTX4) May 28, 2014