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Democrats: DeLay Is Gone, but ‘Nothing Has Changed’

Congressional Democrats basked in the glow of Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) resignation announcement Tuesday, while making clear that even though the former Majority Leader is leaving the House he will remain a major factor in this fall’s midterm elections.

Democrats on both sides of the Capitol sought to frame DeLay’s departure — coming days after a former top aide became the latest to enter a plea agreement in the mushrooming Jack Abramoff scandal — as reinforcement of the broader “culture of corruption” mantra they have been pushing.

“This isn’t just about Tom DeLay ... it’s about the Republicans in Congress that enabled and benefited from this corruption,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed hope that the exit of the man who came to be known as “the Hammer” as he rose through the ranks of GOP leadership might help foster a better working relationship between the two parties.

“I would hope we’ll move into a different era in Congress — one where we approach things for the country and not for partisan purposes,” Reid said. “I hope this is the beginning of a new day.”

But back on the House side, where Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in November to regain power, party leaders went out of their way to stress that the Texas Republican’s departure would do little to alter the underlying ethical problems of the GOP-controlled Congress.

“DeLay may be gone, but nothing has changed,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said in a statement. “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.”

Still, there is little room for argument that Democrats are losing the man they have spent years demonizing and morphing into the ultimate poster child for corruption and greed in Washington.

Democrats denied that the attacks they’ve honed for the past decade will be rendered any less effective when their favorite bogeyman moves to the private sector. They also vowed that the soon-to-be former lawmaker will not be absent from the campaign trail this fall.

“DeLay’s name has been in the news so much that it’s become a code word for corruption. That is true,” Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said Tuesday during a conference call with representatives of liberal watchdog and advocacy groups who had targeted DeLay. “On the other hand, I don’t think the fact that he’s stepped down or is stepping down is going to remove the stain that he’s put on the Congress and DeLay will be very much a part of the upcoming elections.”

From a political standpoint, party strategists said that DeLay’s departure may mean that he will factor even more prominently in House races around the country where GOP incumbents face tough re-election contests.

Democratic media consultant Steve Murphy said the appearance that DeLay was forced to leave office because of his ethical and legal troubles makes it easier to attack GOP incumbents who have close ties to the Texan.

“Because his personal corruption drove him out of office,” he explained. “Because everybody around him is going to jail.”

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