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Look Who's Missing DeLay

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His was the face that launched a thousand fundraisers and Democrats miss him so terribly that they are trying to persuade a federal judge to keep former Congressman Tom DeLay's name on the ballot this fall. Allowing the Texas Republican Party to replace DeLay, who says he lives and votes in Virginia, would cause great harm to the Democratic Party, the party's lawyers argued in an Austin federal court Monday. Proving that claim is crucial to their lawsuit so Democrats testified just how much DeLay meant to them. Embarrassing? "Maybe," said Cris Feldman, an attorney for the Democrats, "but necessary."á

DeLay, who is facing criminal money laundering charges in a campaign finance probe, has a profound effect not only on Democratic juices, but also impacts the party's "bottom line," Ken Bailey, the Texas Democratic party affairs director testified.á "He's kind of like a lightening rod that we use to drum up support," Bailey said. The party has used DeLay's face on numerous flyers and web campaigns in past elections, and organizers say the mention of his name can inspire volunteers from across the state to converge on DeLay's old 22nd congressional district near Houston.

"Mr. DeLay had a profile among contributor Democrats that causes them to be more generous than they are going to be with a candidate who isn't as high profile," longtime Texas Democratic political analyst Dan McClung said in court. DeLay didn't just bring in money, McClung added, but also support from out-of-state Democratic interest groups and resources from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Without him, the volunteers are not as inspired and, as one Republican lawyer joked in court, the money from California liberals dries up. In fact, Democrat Nick Lampson, who is seeking the seat, did receive some early support from Hollywood heavyweights Rob Reiner and Barbra Streisandáwhen DeLay was still in the race. DeLay, who had testified earlier Monday about his move to Virginia, was not in the courtroom for the Democratic salute to his potency, but his presence loomed large. "If Mr. DeLay stays on the ballot, it is a lot easier to run against somebody who's been indicted," Bailey said.

One issue facing U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks is whether DeLay contrived to be declared ineligible, opening the door to a replacement candidate, or whether he simply withdrew from the race. Texas law does not allow a withdrawn candidate to be replaced. Another key question before the court is whether the Texas Republican Party can declare a federal candidate ineligible. Sparks is not expected to rule until early July and his decision is sure to appealed.

Meanwhile, Republicans are going forward with plans to name a new nominee, but they expect Sparks' ruling will come before that process is complete. As for DeLay, he said he would be driving back to his Sugarland "house" (not "home") after testifying that he, indeed, had a Virginia driver's license in his wallet.