Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore

Tom DeLay to be destroyed by forces he set in motion?

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: January 26 2006 22:50 | Last updated: January 26 2006 22:50

The re-election campaign headquarters for US Representative Tom DeLay is virtually empty this morning. Five people are stuffing envelopes, the press officer is checking her Blackberry, and the campaign manager and another staffer are sitting in a dark room, blinds drawn, working quietly at their desks.

There is no hustle and bustle, no knocks at the door for fliers or phones ringing with calls from constituents offering to help.

But Chris Homan, the campaign manager, remains confident. Most campaigns start the year of the election, he notes, but Mr DeLay’s began last March, and has over the past 10 months been quietly targeting the grassroots, with Mr DeLay regularly conducting home-visit “meet-and-greets’’ across this largely Republican district. He claims 1,500 volunteers have been signed up – 500 in the last 10 days alone.

That Mr DeLay felt the need to organise so early, and blanket the 22nd district of Texas so completely, underlines how difficult the congressman is expecting the race to be. Indeed, three relatively unknown Republicans feel emboldened enough to challenge him in the March 7 primary for the right to run against the Democratic opponent in the November 7 general election. In 2004 Mr DeLay won 55 per cent of the vote to 41 per cent for his Democratic opponent.

Mr DeLay’s run for re- election comes while he awaits trial in Texas on money laundering charges related to campaign financing. In addition, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a political associate from Washington, recently pleaded guilty to public corruption and has agreed to co-operate with the government in a case Mr DeLay’s critics contend might well end up touching the congressman.

While Mr DeLay denies any wrongdoing, the legal manoeuvring already has led him to resign as majority leader of the House to keep his problems from tainting the party in what Republicans fear will be a tough election.

“There is an awful lot of anxiety among Republicans as to what may happen in 2006,’’ says Mike Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “I think there is a sense among a growing number of members that they have lost their way. Tom DeLay may become a symbol of what ails them.’’

It is for that reason, Mr Homan says, that Mr DeLay must win this race. The loss of his seat, after 21 years in Congress during which Mr DeLay rose to become one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, would be a symbolic blow. For that reason, Mr DeLay says, Democrats have been working to undermine him.

“This is going to be a very expensive, national race and we’re going to see an unprecedented number of outside Democrat attack groups come into the 22nd district to tell the voters who should represent them,’’ Mr DeLay said.

“We’re already seeing who is bankrolling my opponent – [the leftwing activist group], trial lawyers, and labour unions – and it’s going to take a lot of financial and grassroots support to voice our message over their well-funded, misleading attacks, but I intend to fight hard and I intend to win.”

A poll by the Houston Chronicle, conducted by two respected university professors, concluded that only half of those people who voted for Mr DeLay in 2004 had confirmed they would do so again. Mr DeLay’s staff question the legitimacy of the poll, but it has given life to the campaign of his biggest Democratic opponent, Nick Lampson, who, assuming Mr DeLay wins the primary, will run against him in the general election.

“This district wants someone who can represent them in Congress who makes headlines for the right reasons,’’ Mr Lampson says. He was among six Democrats ousted after Mr DeLay’s 2003 redistricting campaign, which redrew the voting blocks for Congress to benefit Republicans. Because Mr DeLay was so firmly entrenched at the time, he added thousands of Democrats to his own district, which might hurt him now that his position has been weakened.

Richard Murray, a University of Houston political scientist, says parallels might well be drawn between Mr DeLay and the tragic figures of Shakespeare, who are destroyed by forces they put in motion. “Hoisted by your own petard – it happens every now and then,’’ Mr Murray says. “His best-case scenario is to survive as a moderately powerful Congressional member.’’

Yet Mr Franc notes there are some politicians who make real comebacks – Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon, certainly, while, on the congressional level, Trent Lott is in the process of rebuilding his Washington reputation.

What makes those who succeed successful, Mr Franc says, is being patient and keeping focused on the long-term goal. “He has the magic touch that, at the end of the day, will allow him to prevail.

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