ROCKWALL, Texas - U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, at 91 the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was ousted Tuesday in the Texas Republican runoff by a candidate barely half his age.
Backed by powerful national groups with strong ties to the ultraconservative tea party movement, 48-year-old former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe was able to paint Hall as too cozy with the Republican establishment after 34 years in office. He forced the incumbent into his first runoff in 17 terms in the House, then won it decisively on Tuesday.
Establishment-backed conservatives have turned back tea party challengers in Republican primaries in Kentucky, North Carolina and other states as party leaders have made it a priority to avoid the presence of candidates on the ballot this fall who are seen as too conservative or unsteady — or both — to prevail in winnable races.
But there were few such fears in Texas where Republicans have dominated statewide races for more than two decades. Tea party challengers kept winning in Tuesday's primary election runoffs, signalling a further push to the right in the largest conservative U.S. state. It wasn't a total sweep for anti-establishment Republicans, but they won enough key races to put Texas on track to veer even further right on abortion, gun rights and spending come 2015.
Fiery conservative talk radio host Dan Patrick, the tea party caucus founder in the Texas Legislature, ousted long-time incumbent David Dewhurst to claim the Republican nomination for the powerful office of lieutenant governor.
Just two years ago, Dewhurst seemed a lock to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Now Texas Gov. Rick Perry's sidekick for the past 12 years has been being shoved out the door after a second loss to an outspent tea party underdog in as many years. Spending about $20 million of his own fortune against Ted Cruz in 2012 and another $5 million against Patrick this time around couldn't buy Dewhurst a perception among Texas Republican voters as anything but a mainstream Republican who's grown too entrenched.
Hall first ran for political office in 1950 and won his seat when Jimmy Carter was president. He was a Democrat until switching parties in 2004.
The only World War II veteran left in Congress seeking re-election, Hall promised that his next term would be his last but said he wanted to remain in office long enough to help the Republicans retake the White House in 2016.
"I just got whipped and got beat," Hall told supporters in his hometown of Rockwall, where he once had a brush with notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde while working in a pharmacy as a boy.
No Democrat is running in the district that stretches from suburban Dallas east to Louisiana and north to Oklahoma — meaning Ratcliffe will be headed to Washington after the November general election.
Even before the final results were in, Hall called the race "not one of my best ones, that's for sure."
In Texas' March primary, Hall won 45 per cent of the vote compared to Ratcliffe's nearly 29 per cent — but since no one won a majority in a six-way race, Hall was forced into the first runoff in his congressional career.
Texas Democrats, meanwhile, averted embarrassment by not nominating a U.S. Senate candidate who wants to impeach President Barack Obama. Kesha Rogers, who's allied with frequent presidential candidate and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, lost to Dallas dental mogul David Alameel , an Arab-American, after forcing a surprising runoff in March. The Texas Democratic Party urged voters to reject Rogers and nominate Alameel to be its heavy underdog to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the November election.
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