Citing Rep. Ralph Hall’s (R) age and longtime party affiliation as a Democrat, Republicans in the East Texas 4th district are gunning for the 84 year-old’s job with a vengeance usually reserved for Members with ethical or political problems.
Three Republicans have jumped into the race thus far. Much of their motivation stems from the fact that Hall switched parties in 2003 — at age 80 — to head off the possibility of losing his seat in 2004 after the 2003 redistricting of Texas House seats. That remap turned his seat from Democratic-leaning to Republican.
“He was an elected Democrat since Harry Truman was president,” said Rick Neudorff, the former chairman of the Collin County GOP who is advising 2008 primary candidate Gene Christensen (R). “There are a number of people who wanted to run for this position, and there is a bit of an undertow from conservative Republicans to have someone who truly is a lifelong Republican in this seat.”
Although Hall switched parties late in his career, his record was one of a conservative Democrat. Hall helped found the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative House Democrats, and in 2000 supported then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) for president.
Hall’s opponents in the March 4 primary include businessman Kevin George; former Frisco Mayor Kathy Seei; and Christensen, a NASCAR team owner who has been touting the endorsement he received from actor Chuck Norris.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Hall — the oldest sitting Member in the House — was clear that he is running for a 15th term. He said he bears no ill will toward his opponents, but questioned the claims of some of them that he is too old to serve and has not delivered adequately for his constituents.
“I know I have to work harder because I’m older,” Hall said. “But I’ve got experience, and I can do more for the district than they can.”
Hall, the ranking member on the Science and Technology Committee, said he runs one to three miles every morning, and said of campaigning: “That’s what I do for my pastime.”
Hall is set to report third-quarter fundraising numbers of approximately $100,000 raised and somewhere north of $200,000 in cash on hand, according to one of his aides.
Many Republicans remain high on Hall, who has won his two elections handily since switching parties. The Congressman garnered 68 percent of the vote in 2004 and won with 64 percent of the vote in 2006 after running unopposed in the primary.
One Republican strategist familiar with the district said Hall is in solid shape politically, and is not in danger of being ousted in the primary — this despite the threesome challenging him in the March 4 contest and the fact that a fourth opponent could be on the horizon.
This insider, who is based in Texas, said Hall’s intraparty threats are the result of two factors.
The first is a tendency of many of the district’s grass-roots Republicans to believe — because of Hall’s age and despite his protestations to the contrary — that he will not run again.
The second is that those who hope to succeed him are moving to build up their name identification and political connections in advance of Hall’s retirement, which many figure will be sooner rather than later, even if it won’t be this cycle.
“I don’t think this has much to do with a grass-roots uprising against Ralph Hall. He is still considered to be real conservative leader in those areas,” the GOP strategist said. “It’s just people waiting to see what he’s going to do.”
Beyond Hall’s age and status as a former Democrat, Neudorff questioned the Congressman’s performance.
He said Hall’s office does not do a good job of using the latest communications technology to stay in touch with constituents, nor does it adequately serve as a conduit between the district and the federal government.
At least in Christensen’s case, that could be a central theme of the primary campaign against Hall. The idea that it’s time for a change of leadership in Washington, D.C., also is likely to be a part of the argument Hall’s primary challengers make against him.
“Nobody is saying Ralph Hall hasn’t been a good Congressman over the years. But there comes a time for a generational change in leadership,” Neudorff said. “We need more aggressive representation, and a conduit serving between the district and the Congressional office.”
Hall took exception with that criticism.
He said his office is staffed by a “young force” that is up on the latest technology, and added that there is no deficiency in constituent services.
“That’s not true. It’s just absolutely not so,” Hall said.