In a year when many veteran lawmakers are counting down to retirement, the oldest member of Congress is waging one of the toughest political battles of his career simply to serve out one more term.
Texas Rep. Ralph Hall, who turned 91 this month, faces 48-year-old John Ratcliffe in a primary runoff election Tuesday in the northeast Texas seat. Hall led the Republican field in the March 4 primary election, but failed to win an outright majority to avoid a second ballot.
Prominent tea party-affiliated groups have endorsed Ratcliffe, a former local mayor and U.S. attorney, arguing that conservatives need a fresh face in Washington. But Hall, a former Democrat, says no one has opposed the Obama administration more vigorously and wants the chance to fight the president's policies for another term.
The runoff campaign has centered as much on age as ideology. Ratcliffe launched an ad in the closing weeks specifically mentioning Hall's age.
"Hall has served admirably," Ratcliffe says as the camera pans out to show his young daughters playing behind him. "But after four decades in Washington, the problems are getting worse, not better."
Hall has taken on the issue of his age head-on. In his opening television ad, he pointed to the wrinkles on his face as a sign that he is battle-tested.
"When you battle Nancy Pelosi as much as I have, you're bound to get a few wrinkles," he said in the ad.
A more recent ad portrays Hall as a "statesman" whom conservative voters can trust, while claiming that Ratcliffe's legal firm has lobbied in favor of the president's healthcare law. The ad also notes that Hall has served in the Navy. He is one of just two World War II veterans still serving in Congress, along with retiring Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
Dingell is one of 25 House members retiring this year, more than half of whom have served in Congress for two decades. Seven senators are also retiring.
Turnout is expected to be very low in the runoff vote, which comes after a long holiday weekend. Statewide, Republicans are also voting in a bitter runoff battle between sitting Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick.