Rep. Ralph Hall Fights for Seat in Aging Congress

May 27, 2014 | By Randy Yeip

This article, which originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal, cites data from LifeCourse's American Leadership Database.

As Rep. Ralph Hall (R., Texas), the oldest elected official in Washington, fights for his political life in a Republican primary runoff Tuesday, it is instructive to note that Congress is as old as it’s ever been.

Mr. Hall, who is 91, is hardly the only senior citizen having trouble adjusting to life in 2014. Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), 85 years old, was thrown off Michigan’s primary ballot by a county clerk before a judge reinstated him. The case being made by tea party challenger Chris McDaniel against 76-year-old Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) boils down to the fact that Mr. Cochran has spent 40 years in Washington. Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), 78, was dealt a setback after he admitted his Kansas residence amounts to a recliner at a fundraiser’s home.

Mr. Hall faces former U.S. attorney John Ratcliffe in a run-off for the northeast Texas district. Mr. Ratcliffe is backed by the Club for Growth, which views Mr. Hall, who like many Texas politicians of his era used to be a Democrat, as insufficiently conservative with a record that makes the most hard-right voters flinch.

Mr. Hall is one of 79 members of Congress who are at least 70 years old; 50 of them are running this year to remain there. (There are another 14 senators not up this cycle.) And the current Congress has more members 70 or older than almost any of the past 60 years.

Of course, the bulge in the belly of the snake—Baby Boomers—has meant the overall population is graying, as has been noted by Wonkblog among others. Accounting for that, the 70-plus share of the House is roughly in line with the country, though the Senate still skews older.

Looking more broadly at age profiles shows the generational shift in Congress too. Take 1981: on average, the youngest Congress in the last 100 years. The oldest Boomers were turning 35 that year. Compare the distribution of that year’s Congress to the current one. Most members are now in their 50s and 60s—Baby Boomers.

One final point: in terms of their influence and responsibility, not all members of Congress are created equal. The vast majority of those 70 and older are rank and file members. But it is worth noting that among the most senior leadership in the House and Senate, Democrats skew older than Republicans: only one Republican is in his 70s (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 72), while only one Democratic leader is in his 50s (Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, 56).


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