DeLay departure puts twist in midterm elections
Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay's surprise announcement today that he is resigning from Congress ends the political career of one of Washington's most powerful Republicans and could represent a major twist in the national 2006 midterm elections.
DeLay said his decision was triggered largely by the mounting challenges he was facing in his bid for re-election to the Houston-area seat he has held since 1985.
"The voters . . . deserve a campaign about the vital national issues that they care most about and that affect their lives every day," DeLay said in a videotaped statement, "and not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me."
"I'm a realist," DeLay told Time magazine in an interview on Monday. "I've been around a while. I can evaluate political situations. I feel that I could have won the race. I just felt like I didn't want to risk the seat."
DeLay is facing a criminal indictment in Texas on money-laundering charges connected to political fundraising. He is also a reported target of an ongoing federal investigation into the activities of disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Two former DeLay aides have pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials in schemes connected to Abramoff, including last week's plea from former DeLay Chief of Staff Tony Rudy.
The Democrats have used DeLay as exhibit A in their campaign alleging that the GOP represents a "culture of corruption" heading into the midterm elections. And they appear unlikely to stop using DeLay as a bogeyman just because he has announced his resignation.
"DeLay may be gone, but nothing has changed," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "National Republicans want you to believe they have turned the page, but the Republican culture of putting the special interests first does not revolve around just one man."
After DeLay's announcement, Republicans praised his 21-year House career and his tenure as majority leader, a post he assumed in 2003.
"To say Tom was a driving force in every key accomplishment of this Republican Congress is no understatement," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds. "In all my years as an elected official, I have never seen a better vote counter."
Added House Majority Leader John Boehner, who was elected to succeed DeLay in February: "He has served our nation with integrity and honor."
In his home district, DeLay had been facing a formidable challenge from Democrat Nick Lampson, a former congressman who managed to raise $1.85 million by February. A half-dozen Republicans are already expected to enter the race, and the National Republican Campaign Committee clearly believes it is the GOP's to lose. Shortly after DeLay's announcement, the campaign committee sent a memo suggesting that Texas's 22nd District, just west of Houston, is Republican territory. The memo noted that President Bush carried the district with 64 percent of the vote in 2004 and that DeLay defeated his Democratic opponent that year, 55 percent to 41 percent.
DeLay said his resignation will become effective by June.