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Tom DeLay: "This Is a National Campaign"

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) today said his ongoing legal problems will not affect his chances of winning a twelfth term in November but did acknowledge the race would be a "national" contest.

In a sitdown with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, DeLay struck a defiant tone throughout the interview, dismissing his political opponents as "leftist groups" and repeatedly denying any wrongdoing in connection with either the upcoming campaign fundraising trial in Texas or the federal investigation into lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling schemes.

"The Democrats have been planning this for a long time," DeLay said. "They don't have an agenda and so they're trying to get the House back by destroying people and their families."

DeLay is currently fighting a two-front legal battle. In Texas, he is under indictment for money laundering in relation to the funneling of corporate dollars to state legislative elections in 2002.  Corporate contributions to state races are banned under Texas law. DeLay called prosecutor Ronnie Earle a "runaway district attorney who is abusing his power," adding: "My constituents know what's going on here."

Here in Washington, DeLay is one of a handful of Republican politicians purportedly being investigated in relation to the Abramoff scandal. In the lobbyist's plea deal, which was announced in early January, DeLay is not mentioned, but a former top aide -- Tony Rudy -- is referenced in the document.

DeLay said his opponents "lie about what's going on" in terms of his relationship to Abramoff. He justified a trip to Scotland with Abramoff in 2000 as being funded by "a legitimate conservative organization" and said calling the trip a "junket" was "incredibly unfair." The trip was ostensibly funded by the National Center for Public Policy Research, although a Washington Post report revealed that the congressman's airfare was billed to a credit card issued to Abramoff and DeLay's expenses on the trip were billed to another lobbyist.

The revelations about the Scotland trip, DeLay said, has caused no problems in his Texas district.  "Actually, a lot of people play golf down here. It's good to play golf down here," he said.

But the spate of negative news stories surrounding DeLay has clearly taken a toll on his standing in the eyes of voters in this Republican-minded, Houston-area seat. An independent survey commissioned by the Houston Chronicle showed DeLay trailing former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) in a potential head to head race with significant erosion in his conservative base.

Asked about his reelection prospects, DeLay acknowledged it would be "very tough" given the amount of national attention Democrats have brought to bear on him.

"All of the leftist groups have been down here," said DeLay. "This is a national campaign."

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 30, 2006; 6:01 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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