"DeLay becomes a symbol," said Glenn Smith of the liberal advocacy group Drive Democracy. "And the symbol floats free of his particular circumstance in or out of power. That's a political fact."
Democrats are counting on that as they try to wrest control of Congress away from Republicans. They hope that voters will still see Mr. DeLay, who is awaiting trial on charges that he misused corporate funds to elect Republicans to the Texas Legislature in 2002, as the personification of a wider "culture of corruption" in GOP-dominated Washington.
Republicans say that's wishful thinking and that Mr. DeLay will be a distant memory to voters by the time they cast ballots in six months. Political analysts tend to agree, though they say general dissatisfaction with Washington could hurt Republicans with or without Mr. DeLay in the mix.
Republicans say Mr. DeLay's resignation, effective next month, has robbed Democrats of the high-profile bogeyman they were banking on to make that message stick.
"They were using Congressman DeLay across the country as their poster boy," said Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill. "When he decided not to run, that argument was gone."
Plus, Washington political analyst Charlie Cook said, voters don't believe that Democrats in Congress are more virtuous than Republicans when it comes to ethics.
But he said invoking Mr. DeLay as "code for Republican corruption" does feed a broader mood of voter discontent, which could work against the GOP in November.
"He may be gone, but the corrupt machine he built lives on," said Toby Chaudhuri, a spokesman for the liberal advocacy group Campaign for America's Future.
The group plans to continue using Mr. DeLay in TV spots in contested congressional districts. On its Web site, it still features a photo of Mr. DeLay and the headline: "DeLay is Out, Now Help Expose His Cronies."
Democrats still hope to take the seat as one of the handful they need to win the House, but without Mr. DeLay on the ballot, it's unlikely Mr. Lampson can count on such high-profile support. Still, he's optimistic.
"Round one is clearly in my corner," Mr. Lampson said last week.
But the incumbent's departure leaves Mr. Lampson seeking election in a Republican district against a yet-to-be-determined GOP opponent not saddled with the kind of ethics problems that bedeviled Mr. DeLay.
John Cobarruvias, a local Democratic leader, acknowledged that Mr. DeLay's departure has "taken a little air out of this on the national level, definitely."
Mr. Lampson said Mr. DeLay's ethical miscues are well-known to voters in the district, which includes portions of Harris, Brazos, Galveston and Fort Bend counties.
"I don't have to go out and remind them," he said. "It's ingrained in a lot of these people in this district, and it will resonate."
At the same time, Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise said, don't be surprised if the campaign runs TV ads this fall featuring Mr. DeLay.
Second, even if national fundraising drops off a bit, so what? Lampson already had $1.7 million in the bank as of March 31. He'll easily crack $2 million, if he hasn't already done so. He's armed for this fight, which is more than his as-yet-unnamed opponent can say.
Next, while no candidate (not even Lampson before DeLay's dropout) can run an all-DeLay-all-the-time campaign, there is and will be plenty of material for a few attack ads or mailers. This is because Republican Congressfolk all around the country, especially those moderates-in-name-only from the Northeast, have tied themselves tightly to Tom DeLay for a long time. They've taken his money, they've given to his defense fund, they voted to rewrite their own rules to let him stay as Majority Leader after he'd been indicted, they voted to remove the members of the Ethics Committee that had the gall to admonish DeLay, and they vote with him 90+% of the time. The mailers and advertising copy write themselves. Again, no campaign can run on this alone, but there's no reason to believe this line of attack should be abandoned, either.
And while the Chosen One surely won't have DeLay's level of ethical and legal problems (who could?), he or she is likely to have some specific ties to DeLay that can be exploited in any number of ways. That's most probably going to be the case if the Chosen One is from Fort Bend (David Wallace, Charlie Howard, Andy Meyers), but I'd bank on it regardless of where the replacement candidate comes from. DeLay's gravitational field is too great to think that any area Republican prominent and connected enough to replace him on the ballot is free of any of his taint. It just doesn't work that way. Some connections will be more obvious than others, but you can bet they exist for any viable replacement possibility. (Yes, this means I think Tom Campbell doesn't have a prayer of being the Chosen One.)
Finally, even after DeLay officially resigns and is removed from the ballot (who knows when that will be), he's still going to be in the news, thanks to the ongoing appeals process in his money laundering trial. The Abramoff investigation is still out there, too, with DeLay buddy Ed Buckham apparently next in the line of fire. It won't be a daily drumbeat as it was before he cut and ran, but it'll be there, and every story that features him will be a reminder of why he quit and why he symbolized so much that was bad.
So yes, you will see DeLay on your TV this fall. How could it not be that way? The man himself may be gone, but his legacy lives, and that's very much a viable campaign issue.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 23, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack