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After 34 Years, Ralph Hall, America's Oldest Congress Member, Loses His Seat

John Ratcliffe declared victory Tuesday night after defeating longtime incumbent Ralph Hall, America’s oldest Congress member.

The district runs from Rockwall County to East Texas and along the Red River. Hall is well-known and admired by many, but Ratcliffe's supporters say Hall has spent enough time in Congress and that it's time for new leadership.

Hall, 91, has spent 34 years in office. Hall conceded Tuesday night to Ratcliffe and reflected on his lengthy career.

"How can I be unhappy at this time with all of these people here behind me?" Hall told reporters. "I'll still be there until the 31st day of December and I'll be taking Obamacare on every hour of every day. ... It's better to win than it is to lose and I wish him well. Other than my Lord and savior and family, it's been the greatest part of my life. It's been a blessing."

Hall said he wasn't surprised by Tuesday's results.

“I outworked him but I didn’t outvote him,” Hall said. “I just got whipped and I got beat and my folks are sad. But they know I’m not sad. I’m pleased to have had the opportunity.”

Since no Democrat is running, Ratcliffe will become the district's representative after the November election. 

KERA talked with Ratcliffe Tuesday night. Here are highlights:

What made the difference in his race against Hall?

I think we actually had a better ground game. From the beginning, we thought that might make the difference. I focused on running a digitally comprehensive campaign that involved a lot of modern analytics, a lot of social media, micro targeting of voters. And so, you know, I think at the end of the day, those things did pay dividends in terms of turnout.

Runoff elections are about getting out the vote. We were focused on that from phone banking, identifying our voters, micro targeting and, at the end of the day, I think that made the difference.

What does he say to Hall’s disappointed supporters?

We all have great respect and admiration for Congressman Hall and his service, but a majority of people in his district clearly said that it’s time for new leadership. So what I say to Congressman Hall’s supporters is that I would hope they would join me and work with me to help tackle some of the significant problems that they would agree our country faces right now.

We’ve had a spirited battle in this primary and then the runoff. Now is the time for Republicans to come together so that we can do a better job in taking on our real nemesis, which is President Obama and his liberal allies in Washington.

What was his initial reaction to the outcome of the race?

I was cautiously optimistic. We had a lot of anecdotal evidence of that pointed toward momentum shifting our way late in the game and the early returns were very encouraging but it was still close.

It’s one of those things you struggle and work so long for something, it’s been six months, when it comes there is sort of a surreal aspect to it and to be honest with you, I haven’t really focused on it. I know that I’ve won the race, but I haven’t really focused on anything other than … I’m grateful that I didn’t disappoint all the people that worked so hard on my campaign … I’m grateful they had the outcome they really wanted.

Two main things he wants to focus on once he’s in office:

It wasn’t the reason I got in the race, but Obamacare is the thing that I hear in all 18 counties in the district. It always came up. It’s the thing that is causing the people the most hardship. For some instances, it’s financial hardship; for some it’s actual physical hardship in terms of doctors they want to see but can’t.

I really do still want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with credible market based solutions.

I got in the race to deal with the fiscal issues and problems facing this country, so I’m going to push for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, push for spending caps – that’s important to me.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.