April 07, 2006
My take on where we stand in CD22

Since there isn't much in the way of news in the CD22 saga since the Perry announcement and anti-Lampson protest of yesterday afternoon, I'm going to try to collect my thoughts here and see where we stand. It's been a frenzied and confusing week, and there's still a lot that's unclear, so maybe this will help.

First, let's talk special elections. When I first raised the issue of needing a majority vote to win a special election, I was thinking about the election for the 2007-08 term in Congress. That's obviously wrong, since the special can only be for the unexpired term. Perry's announcement, which echoes what various county GOP bigwigs have been saying, says to me that we won't have a meaningful special election. We may still have a November special to go along with the general, which makes no sense to me, but beyond ballot confusion and the prospect of a pointless runoff in December it's not worth worrying about at this point. I apologize for adding to the already-high level of confusion on this point.

I've talked about the prospect of disunity on the Republican side, as the process of selecting a replacement may cause disguntlement among the losers. While a special election would have only been to fill the remaining six months of DeLay's term in office, it could also have served the purpose of selecting the nominee for November. Surely if you were going to bother with a special election, you'd want whoever won to run as the incumbent and accrue all the benefits of incumbency and of getting a leg up on seniority. The risk from the Republican perspective, of course, is that Nick Lampson could win that special election. That's what all the talk of "freak shows" and "circuses" is covering for - fear that Lampson would win and get those incumbency benefits. The view there, I believe, is that the Republicans have more to lose with a pre-November special election than they have to gain.

As such, the "back room" has its appeal. I'd dispute the notion that a council of wise men is any better at picking the optimal candidate - just think of Illinois in 2004 and the selection of Alan Keyes to carry the GOP banner against now-Sen. Barack Obama. Granted, the powers that be in CD22 will have a deeper pool of talent from which to pick than their Illinois brethren did, but the warning remains. One could also argue that the distributed dirt-digging that occurs in a multi-candidate race - call it the free-market approach to oppo research, if you will - is more efficient, since the motivation to uncover the goods is stronger when you've got something personal at stake.

But that's neither here nor there. I think if the Republicans were forced by circumstance to select a replacement, there'd be less risk of lingering resentment, since the choice was unavoidable and everyone would recognize that someone has to lose out. The problem here is the perception, fed by reports like this and reiterated today by Kristin Mack, that this whole thing was engineered by DeLay from before the primary to ensure that someone of his choosing gets to run in his stead. Stepping down now is DeLay's choice, and whether or not things like the cost of his criminal defense, the length of the trial process, and/or his sagging poll numbers were genuine factors in making his choice, the fact remains that all of these things were known, at least to some extent, before the primary filing deadline. DeLay could have announced last year that he was not running for re-election, and let the primary voters do their job. But he didn't, so now anyone who supports or would have supported someone other than the eventual Chosen One has a legitimate gripe about how their guy got jobbed.

It's hard to say how big an effect that may have. It could turn out to be nothing, at least for this election. Who the Chosen One is and how he addresses those gripes will go a long way towards determining how unified Republicans are going into November. I do believe there has to be some fallout, and not just because of the way this whole thing has apparently been engineered. The fact of the matter is that DeLay's departure from the scene leaves a big vacuum in the local power structure. It's a cinch that there will be some hard feelings as people scramble to fill that void. How big the effect is and how long it lasts, I couldn't say. I just know there will be an effect.

One last point is that even though DeLay's name will not be on the ballot, he's going to be a big part of this race, as well as races elsewhere in the country (see here for an example). Given that his replacement will be someone he approves of, if not handpicks himself, it's all but guaranteed that the Chosen One will have close ties to DeLay, and those ties will be a campaign issue. The Democratic drumbeat on DeLay isn't just about the man himself, though Lord knows he's a target-rich environment. It's about the system he's set up, the way Congress and K Street do business by his design, and the corruption from top to bottom that this has engendered. Substituting in a crony for DeLay does nothing to change any of that. That's what Lampson and so many other candidates are running against, and that's why they'll continue to run against DeLay. He may be gone, but his spirit lives on.

And that's why I believe Lampson's fundraising will continue apace. Mike Malaise told me yesterday that the campaign received $10,000, unsolicited, from online donations in the say or so after DeLay made his announcement. That ugly incident at the press conference in Fort Bend has already been turned into a campaign mailer. Every time DeLay is in the news, which ought to be a regular occurrance between his June departure, his court case in Travis County, and the Justice Department pursuit of Ed Buckham among other things, it will be another hook for fundraising. This saga hasn't lowered the profile of the CD22 race. It's got people fired up.

So that's how I see things right now. Given how this story has gone from Day One, it's all subject to change at a moment's notice. I think the basic elements will remain unaltered, however. For some other views, I present the point/counterpoint of Right of Texas and Capitol Annex. And of course, I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 07, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

Alan Keyes! I think you hit on the best candidate for CD22

Posted by: Michael on April 7, 2006 12:51 PM