DeLay Squares Off Against Democratic Rival

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Forget the Alamo. Given that Tuesday's Texas primary fell just one day after Texas' most revered anniversary, the historical metaphors hanging over Congressman Tom DeLay's re-election bid in the state's Republican primary were just too rich to pass on, but they evaporated with a 62 percent DeLay victory over the three challengers to his 22-year hold on the 22nd congressional district.

Delay held his base and won in early voting, a sure sign of a good organization, but his win in his home county was not as strong as in other parts of district, which includes western suburbs of Houston and Clear Lake—home to NASA. "Looking inside the skimpy primary tea leaves for little tidbits, the one interesting and dangerous thing for Tom DeLay that I see is that he ran poorly in his home county, " said University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray. "He took under 56% of the primary vote among local voters who presumably know him best, compared to almost 70% elsewhere in the district...not a good sign for the coming war with the Democratic challenger."

Divining the import of Texas primary election numbers can be difficult. Texas has no party registration, so there is no way of knowing how many Democrats chose to vote in the Republican primary in an effort to influence DeLay's numbers, and there is little doubt that Tom DeLay is a great motivator for Texas Democratic activists.

DeLay's legal troubles and challengers forced him to "run like a freshman," Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said. On the flip side, it also enabled DeLay to spend more time campaigning. "There never was a question in my mind that Tom DeLay would lose in the 22nd district," Houston GOP political consultant Allen Blakemore said. Once DeLay stepped down from the leadership, he was free to spend more time at home visiting "every Republican Women's Club in the district," Blakemore said. Forcing DeLay out of the leadership "certainly awakened a sleeping giant in terms of campaign activities."

DeLay's campaign focused on getting early absentee voters to the polls, usually the bedrock of primary election successes, and solidifying his base, particularly local officials. The congressman also resumed his seat on the House Appropriations Committee and was quick to remind his Houston suburban voters just how important that seat is—campaign literature touts his $1 billion delivery of federal funds for transportation, law enforcement and NASA.

DeLay's war will rage on in what could be the most expensive congressional race in history as former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson, loaded with $1.4 million in his war chest and fueled by anger over the DeLay redistricting plan which pushed him out of his seat, rides into the arena unscarred by a primary fight. DeLay has a little less on hand, some $1.3 million, and certainly more legal bills on the horizon as he fights the campaign financing criminal charges brought by Austin prosecutor Ronnie Earle. Both men have tapped financial sources inside Texas and beyond—Lampson hitting pay dirt among trial lawyers and unions across the country, DeLay finding fertile territory among drug and oil companies, bankers, healthcare companies and business.

But gnawing away on the margins will be a so far unknown factor, former Republican Congressman Steve Stockman, variously described as an ultra-right winger and a maverick, who toppled former Democratic Congressman Jack Brooks from his nearby district. After one term in Washington, Stockman, an eccentric who slept in his office, was defeated, but he has announced he will run as an independent in the 22nd district, where he could peel off some conservative votes if he gets on the ballot.

The main event will be between DeLay and Lampson, and the line in the sand is clear. Lampson is sure to keep calling DeLay a "bully" and try to hang Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff around DeLay's neck. As for DeLay, he no doubt will be smiling that ubiquitous smile and pointing out to those suburban, generally conservative Houston District 22 voters that while Lampson calls himself a conservative Democrat, he has taken money from well-known liberal Hollywood contributors like Norman Lear, Barbra Streisand and Rob Reiner. That battle may well be the real "Remember the Alamo" moment.