With Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) out of the way, Republicans concerned with holding his seat were breathing a collective sigh of relief Tuesday, while Democrats countered that the 22nd district was still theirs for the taking.
DeLay’s surprise resignation announcement touched off a flurry of behind-the-scenes maneuvering Tuesday, as potential Republican candidates sought to gauge their viability as his replacement on the Nov. 7 ballot.
A spokesman for the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Nick Lampson, said the absence of DeLay and his luggage-set of ethics issues to run against would not significantly alter the ex-Congressman’s strategy, nor would it hamper his fundraising effort.
But Republican officials based in the Houston area insisted that a once-competitive district in danger of being flipped by the Democrats had just turned into a walk for DeLay’s as-yet-to-be-determined replacement as the Republican nominee.
“The numbers aren’t there, that’s why they were having to base their entire campaign on running against Tom DeLay,” said Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill. “Now they don’t have that.”
But Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise said the former Congressman’s campaign has been about far more than running against DeLay. Malaise said voters in the 22nd district already had an unfavorable opinion of DeLay, freeing up Lampson to run a positive campaign focused on the issues.
With DeLay gone, however, it will be easier for Republicans to focus media and voter attention on Lampson’s record.
A memo distributed by the National Republican Congressional Committee Tuesday sought to highlight Lampson’s liberal voting record. Lampson, the memo says, voted against the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, voted against eliminating the marriage tax penalty and voted against repealing the estate tax, also known as the death tax.
But Malaise noted that Lampson has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. He is well positioned to win this race, as Republican voters in the district are disappointed with the GOP-controlled Congress and its record of rising deficits, foreign debt and wasteful spending, Malaise said.
Lampson previously represented about 20 percent of the current 22nd district for eight years, as a portion of it fell into the district he held prior to the DeLay-engineered mid-decade remap of Texas Congressional seats.
“There aren’t many left-wing extremists who have multiple endorsements from the NRA,” Malaise said, adding: “A lot of people here were extremely disappointed in the Congress DeLay led.”
DeLay’s decision to forgo re-election and resign from Congress, made public late Monday night, has buoyed Republicans by opening a seat with a strong GOP tilt. Because DeLay already won the Republican primary, replacing him on the ballot will fall to a committee of four electors.
According to Woodfill, Texas election law stipulates that the four electors be chosen by a caucus of the voting-precinct chairmen from each of the four counties that fall in the 22nd district. Only the chairmen who represent precincts that lie within the district will participate in the caucus.
To satisfy a requirement for removing his name from the ballot, DeLay plans to move his official residence from Sugar Land, Texas to Alexandria, Va. By no longer residing in Texas, DeLay would be ineligible to run.