WASHINGTON — At the age of 91, Rep. Ralph Hall insists he still has a lot to offer in Congress.
The Texas Republican talks about wanting to fix Obamacare and fight the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency that are killing jobs. But his vision for the future isn't what is at issue in Tuesday's runoff as Hall seeks renomination to the House seat he first won in 1980.
The main topic is Hall himself and whether the oldest man serving in Congress should be elected to an 18th term.
"I'm the hardest worker in politics you ever saw," Hall said. "I still run two miles every morning. I vote 99% of the time. I do anything that those other guys do."
John Ratcliffe, the Republican trying to unseat Hall, asserts his issue is not with Hall's age but his tenure. A former U.S. attorney and small-town mayor, Ratcliffe said he is trying to make a point about citizen legislators and the need for change in Washington.
"One of the problems in the country is we do have too many career politicians who stay too long and become part of the problem we're trying to fix," said Ratcliffe, who is 48 years old. "These are two-year terms for a reason. I don't think our founders intended that someone serve 18 of them."
Hall addressed the age issue in a campaign ad, in which he played up the lines on his face and proclaimed some to be the product of fighting Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and liberal Democrats. "By gosh, I've got room for a few more wrinkles," Hall said in the ad.
The Texan is also the last World War II veteran in Congress seeking re-election. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of Congress, is retiring after being in Washington since 1955. Dingell's retirement and that of Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., whom Hall described as one of his closest friends, sparked another playful remark about age.
"He's too old. He ought to go home," Hall joked about both Dingell, 87, and Coble, 83.
National Republicans such as former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Tea Party favorites such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and ex-congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul have rallied behind Hall. Texas GOP members of Congress have helped Hall boost his campaign treasury, providing him with campaign donations to help offset the personal spending by Ratcliffe.
"There is no man held in higher regard by his colleagues than Congressman Ralph Hall," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a recent tribute to Hall and other members of Congress who served in the military.
Ratcliffe said he doesn't put too much stock in these endorsements, noting that none of the national figures lives in the district or can cast a vote in the runoff. Instead, Ratcliffe presses on about the need for change and stresses that his opponent has voted to raise the debt ceiling five times as a Democrat and twice as a Republican. Hall switched parties in 2004.
Ratcliffe claimed momentum is on his side and noted that 51% of voters chose someone other than Hall in the May 4 primary. Hall received about 45% of the primary vote, while Ratcliffe won about 29%. Four other GOP candidates split the rest of the vote.
As with any runoff, turnout will be key. Turnout is expected to be even lower than usual since it comes the day after Memorial Day when many voters have been on vacation.
Hall said he's urging his supporters to get to the polls. "I think we're OK, but you can't ever tell," he said. "I'll either be crying or laughing my way back up here the next morning."