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Five Challengers Taking On Congress' Oldest Member

The crowded field of candidates campaigning against 90-year-old U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall argues that 17 terms are enough for the Republican lawmaker.

At 90 years old, U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, is the oldest member of Congress, where he has served for more than three decades. His opponents say he's been there long enough. 

Five Republican challengers are facing off against Hall in their party’s March 4 primary election. 

“I think he’s part of a class of politicians that’s gone to Washington and stayed too long,” said John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney and mayor of Heath who is running for Hall’s seat. “I think he’s been less effective in the last few years.”

Ratcliffe and four other challengers are hoping to force Hall into a runoff election. With the advantage of incumbency, most expect Hall to bring in the most votes on election night. But if he receives less than 50 percent of the total, he will face the runner-up in a May runoff election.

The question is who will finish second. Joining Ratcliffe in the race are Lou Gigliotti, a former racecar driver and current owner of an auto parts business who has unsuccessfully challenged Hall twice before; Tony Arterburn, an Army veteran; John Stacy, a former member of the Fate City Council; and Brent Lawson, an engineering manager.

The Republican nominee will face Libertarian J.P. Raley and independent candidate Kenneth Lee Kammer in November. No Democrat filed to run in the Republican-leaning district. 

Hall, a World War II veteran, did not respond to requests for comment. But addressing questions about his age, Hall has said he still feels fine, and that he runs two miles every day. 

First elected to Congress in 1980 — as a Democrat, but he became a Republican in 2004 — Hall has served 17 two-year terms. He spent 10 years as a Texas state senator and before that served as Rockwall County judge. He has said that if he is re-elected, the term would be his last.

Hall has run a relatively quiet campaign, choosing not to face his primary opponents on the campaign trail. That strategy has provoked ire among the challengers, who say voters deserve an opportunity for side-by-side comparison.

“The myth of Ralph Hall is what he’s running as,” Gigliotti said.

Ratcliffe said he had attended nine different candidate forums and the incumbent attended none of them. 

Hall told The Dallas Morning News that his schedule is too busy for him to face his candidates in person, which places him at a disadvantage in the race.

“I’ll be up there [in Washington] while my opponents are putting signs all over my district here,” he said. 

In his absence, Hall’s challengers are working to make names for themselves.

Ratcliffe and Gigliotti seem to be the top contenders. Ratcliffe has received more than $13,000 from fellow former federal attorneys, and he has loaned $400,000 to his campaign. Gigliotti is familiar to local voters, having received 21 percent of the primary vote in 2010 to Hall’s 58 percent.

Gigliotti boasted endorsements from local Tea Party groups and said he would focus on shrinking government and reducing regulations, particularly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He said the best way to protect the lesser prairie chicken, a species in Texas that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering for addition to the endangered species list, was to “put it on the menu.” By doing so, he said, “prairie chicken’ll be available for 69 cents a pound at Walmart.”

Ratcliffe eschewed the Tea Party label, saying that he's “not a big labels guy.” He described himself as a limited government conservative who would prioritize repealing the Affordable Care Act, balancing the federal budget and securing U.S. borders.

He also said that term limits were a central part of his platform.

“I don’t believe our founders intended for there to be a permanent political class,” he said. “I just personally believe that 34 years in Congress, if not too long, is certainly long enough.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/02/28/ralph-hall/.

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