In another legislative century, Tom DeLay might be on a fast
track to have a building named after him.
A fierce competitor, he helped Republicans take back the House in
1994, then build a national majority - while pushing through
landmark conservative policies in overtime votes. Friends and foes
alike called him "the Hammer."
But after years of legal woes, he may leave Congress this spring
with another nickname: "Representative No. 2." That's how he's named
in a plea agreement on corruption charges made by a former staffer
It's a fall from power that has become nearly a template in the
highly polarized House of Representatives, which has seen its last
two Speakers bashed on ethics.
His exit deprives Democrats of Exhibit A in their "culture of
corruption" campaign theme to take back the House in fall elections.
But it also deprives House Republicans of their most effective
political infighter - and a seat in Texas that may still be tough to
"DeLay wanted to create a Republican majority that would last for
decades. He was very strategic and extremely creative in the tools
that he put at the disposal of the majority," says Ross Baker, a
political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
"What he did for Republicans transcended ideology. If it meant
helping [GOP moderates] like Chris Shays or Sherwood Boehlert, he
did it because he could see beyond the limited circumstances and see
that the Republican majority was what was important."
In the end, what moved him to step down were concerns about
holding the GOP majority, Mr. DeLay said. "Because I care so deeply
about this district and the people in it, I refuse to allow liberal
Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative,
personal campaign," he said in an address to his Texas constituents.
"Whatever legal problems were hanging over his head, he did
something that was designed to help the Republicans: to remove
himself as the lightning rod," says Professor Baker.
On the eve of his resignation - announced Tuesday but not
effective until later this spring - Mr. DeLay had raised $1.3
million for his campaign, expected to be the most expensive race in
the 2006 cycle. He faced former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), who lost his
seat in 2004 after a Texas redistricting engineered by DeLay.
"When Nick Lampson declared for this seat, he was betting that
Tom DeLay would be wounded and vulnerable and perhaps not even on
the ballot," says Calvin Jillson, a political scientist at Southern
Methodist University in Dallas.
His exit this late in the election cycle creates problems for
Texas Republicans, but not insurmountable ones. …