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House: Both Sides Spin the DeLay News

As the news of Rep. Tom DeLay's plans to resign from Congress rippled through official Washington today, both parties sought to cast it as a win.

Tom DeLay
Tom DeLay smiles during a March 21 news conference in Houston. Will his departure from Congress save the 22nd District seat for the GOP? (AP photo)

Democrats, who had made defeating DeLay a top priority in 2006, insisted that they still had a very strong chance at winning the Houston-area 22nd District in the fall, even though DeLay's name won't be on the ballot. They also insist that the former majority leader's departure won't hurt their ability to make Washington's "culture of corruption" a major issue against Republicans in November.

"Tom DeLay may be gone, but the delay in real reform continues," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). "National Republicans want you to believe they have turned the page, but the Republican culture of putting the special interests first does not revolve around just one man."

Democrats say DeLay's resignation does not change the basic dynamics of the 22nd District race, noting that their nominee -- former Rep. Nick Lampson -- has more than $1.4 million in the bank, and leads both DeLay and a generic Republican candidate in polling.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, on the other hand, put out a memo this morning describing the "solidly Republican constituency" of the district -- noting that President George W. Bush carried it with 64 percent of the vote in 2004.

The memo also seeks to paint Lampson as too liberal for the district. "Former Congressman Lampson will be unable to run on a congressional record that leaves him out of step with America's hard-working families," it reads, citing Lampson's vote against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as an example of this alleged disconnect.

NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) did not make mention of the political ramifications of DeLay's resignation in his statement today, choosing instead to lavish praise on the party's former House leader. "Tom's invaluable presence on the campaign trail will certainly be missed as we continue the battle to strengthen our House Republican Majority, but on this day, we celebrate him for time and again delivering on our party's bold agenda of reform," said Reynolds.

One potential problem for Republicans in their hopes of retaining the seat is former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who appears committed to going forward with his plan to run as an independent in the fall. "It is time we put this part of our past behind us and begin the healing process," Stockman said in a statement released by his campaign today. "I'm focused on the issues facing my home district 22 and looking forward to a spirited debate of those issues. "

DeLay is expected to formally resign from the seat in the coming months but will wait to do so until the window closes on Gov. Rick Perry's (R) ability to call a special election fill the seat. In order to be formally disqualified from the ballot, DeLay must move out of the state; he plans to change his legal residence to Virginia. A state GOP central committee will then select a nominee.

In an interview this morning on Fox News, DeLay said he had decided not to run because he "just realized that my constituents don't deserve this."

DeLay insisted he could have won reelection but that the prospect of a nasty and costly race did not appeal to him. He also dismissed the idea that the guilty plea of his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, or any of the allegations regarding his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff had anything to do with his decision.

"The Abramoff affair has nothing to do with me," said DeLay. "The Justice Department has told my lawyers I'm not a target of this investigation."

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 4, 2006; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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