Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore

Discontent with GOP finds way into Texas

By SUZANNE GAMBOA, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 17, 3:19 PM ET

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas - The economy is strong and Rickye Lennon's excavation business is thriving. Yet his son may soon go to war, government scandals are in the news, and Lennon, a Republican deep in the heart of Bush country, doesn't think his party should remain in charge of Congress.

"I think we need a wake-up call," said Lennon, 50, of Dripping Springs. "They need to be paying attention to the issues the people are concerned about and I think we need to become more moderate in our views."

Three weeks to the midterm elections, GOP discontent is seeping into the home state of President Bush, where every statewide elected official is a Republican.

The state's Republican House members were supposed to be protected from such voter mood swings by the 2003 redrawing of the state's congressional districts, orchestrated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

But largely because of DeLay, who resigned in June embroiled in scandal, Texas this year unexpectedly is one of the states that could help Democrats wrest control of the House from the GOP this November. Races for three of the state's 32 congressional seats are considered competitive.

No Republican is listed on the ballot in the race for the seat once held by DeLay. That's left Democrat Nick Lampson the favorite against write-in Republican candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

Democrats hope the congressional page scandal will help push Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla (news, bio, voting record) into a runoff against one of his seven challengers for a district stretching from near El Paso to Laredo.

And voter unease also may thwart Republican efforts to seize the Central Texas district that is home to Bush's ranch, a congressional seat now held by Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards (news, bio, voting record).

There is disquiet in the state's gubernatorial race, too, in which incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Perry is polling only in the high 30s against three challengers.

Walter Dean Burnham, a professor emeritus in the University of Texas at Austin government department, said that while "there certainly is some sign of discontent" in the state, he expected its impact in congressional races to be limited.

"I don't see any good reason the love affair with the Republican Party has weakened all that much," he said.

News that Republican Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record) sent illicit electronic messages to congressional pages was unfolding when Lennon stopped at the Dripping Springs post office recently. A cap embroidered with "Legends of Texas Swing Music Festival" shielded his eyes as he slapped dust from his jeans.

To Lennon, the handling of the Foley scandal and ethical problems involving other congressmen are examples of Republican hypocrisy.

"It's cronyism," he said. "There are a lot of people out there that will do anything they can to protect their party. That's wrong. We have to do what's right. We have laws that everyone has to follow and they are not above that law."

He expects to vote for his Democratic congressman, Lloyd Doggett of Austin.

Others are ready to give the GOP another chance.

Sokhom Chum, who lives in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, said there's plenty he doesn't like about Congress. The finger-pointing is wearing on him and he'd like to see more compromise on immigration.

But Chum, 46, said he is willing to give Republicans another year to resolve the Iraq war and do a better job of governing. "I'm a patient man. The economy seems to be doing fine," he said.

Two years ago, Republicans took charge of the Texas congressional delegation, winning 22 of 32 House seats. The DeLay-led redistricting ensured few competitive races. Democrats produced some competition when they sued to keep Republicans from replacing DeLay on the ballot.

And while Republicans pledged to spend as much as a $4 million on the race, the money hasn't materialized. Such spending has become less likely as the Foley scandal puts at risk more Republican seats around the country.

In Edwards' district, Republican challenger Van Taylor has waged a blistering campaign that accuses the Democratic incumbent of being soft on illegal immigration. But voters were more likely to mention Edwards' work to keep open the local veterans hospital and snare a homeland security contract for one of the district's largest employers.

"I generally vote Republican, but in Chet's case ... he is looking out for the people and his district," said John Henry, 66, of Waco.

On Tuesday, Edwards' campaign gleefully trumpeted reports that the national Republican committee had abandoned plans to spend $1.5 million on the race. Taylor's campaign would not confirm the reports, but spokesman Mike Spellings said, "We were prepared from the very beginning to win this campaign on our own and Van has shown that he is adept at raising money."

Bonilla found himself in an unexpected fight after the Supreme Court ruled that Hispanic voting strength had been diluted in his district and ordered it redrawn. Now that the district is more Hispanic, his Democratic challengers are hoping for a runoff, although Bonilla still is favored to win.

Bonilla acknowledged his party faces challenges, listing DeLay's resignation and the Foley page scandal among others, but says the Democratic uproar is an "act of the devil" to distract voters.

"It's like a family member, when somebody goes bad," Bonilla said. "It makes it harder for the whole family to function."

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