Ralph Hall gets his 17th term in Texas

The Tea Party never really “went away.”  They went back to their jobs and families after the last round of elections, and on lunch breaks they read stories about how they didn’t matter anymore, while a rabble of filthy anarchist squatters spouting half-remembered passages from Das Kapital were the future of people-powered politics.  The squatters were eventually cleared away in a cloud of tear gas, while the Tea Party checked the calendar, saw primary season had begun, and trotted back to the polls.

The media now speaks of a Tea Party “resurgence,” which has produced a series of remarkable primary victories.  On Tuesday night, however, they lost a race, as Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas won the Republican nomination against Tea Party challenger Steve Clark.  It is extremely unlikely that Hall will lose the general election, so his seventeenth Congressional term is pretty much in hand.  At 89 years of age, he is the oldest sitting Congressman.

Hall never seems to have faced anything comparable to the negative energy that built up against long-term Senate incumbent Dick Lugar in Indiana, and he was difficult to portray as a sessile moderate pawn of The System.  He calls for both significant spending cuts and dramatic tax reform, going so far as to support both the Flat Tax and Fair Tax concepts, either of which he sees as superior to the current system.  He spends a bit too much time fussing about “greenhouse gases,” but not at the expense of developing traditional energy resources, writing that “fossil fuels are not the enemy, but the necessary bridge to the alternative fuels of the future.”

Clark fought an uphill battle, spending $100,000 out of his own pocket to run against the venerable incumbent.  He didn’t have the race to himself, running roughly even with small businessman Lou Gigliotti.  They both ended up with about 21 percent of the vote on Tuesday night, while Hall cruised to victory with 58 percent, avoiding the sort of runoff that is about to give Texans a heavyweight title fight between David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz for the open Senate seat.

That’s not much different from the vote Hall has traditionally accumulated during his many re-election campaigns, while Clark actually did worse than when he ran for the same seat in 2010.  It was generally a very good night for incumbents in Texas, with the only loser being Democrat Representative Silvestre Reyes, frustrated in his bid for a ninth term by Internet entrepreneur Beto O’Rourke. 

In addition to the Tea Party, another group active in the Texas primaries was a Super PAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which is waging a bipartisan war against all long-term incumbents.  To maintain their bipartisan credibility, they only become involved in races where the incumbent is perched in a “safe” seat.

“Incumbents usually have a “message monopoly” during primaries,” their website explains.  “They raise more money (mostly from lobbyists and special interests) and use those funds to tell voters all of the “wonderful” things they have done. But they never speak of the earmarks, pay raises, junkets and generalized corruption that have infected politics in Washington, D.C.  Our goal is to bring true competition to our electoral process, to give voters real information about their choices, and to restore fair, not fixed, elections.”

The Campaign for Primary Accountability poured over $360,000 into ads against both Hall and Reyes over the course of the past month.  Reyes was particularly upset by this, accusing the group of “smearing and sliming” him.   As it turns out, he’s the one that lost his seat, while Ralph Hall will celebrate his 90th birthday in the office he won as a Democrat, back in 1980.  The Tea Party will also roll up its sleeves and get back to work.