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House: Will Rep. Ney Follow DeLay's Lead?

Tom DeLay's decision to resign from Congress rather than risk his (and his party's) political future at the ballot box has stoked talk that embattled Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney will follow his colleague's lead.

Rep. Bob Ney opens his reelection campaign at a January event in Dover, Ohio. (Getty Images)

In the immediate aftermath of DeLay's announcement Monday night, Ney issued a statement seeking to dismiss any comparison. "While I respect Tom DeLay's decision, I am not Tom DeLay," Ney said. "I have absolutely no intention of retiring."

While Ney may have no plans to retire, there is growing sentiment among Republican insiders in the nation's capital that he should do just that for the good of the party. "Tom DeLay knew that not running was always a possibility and did the honorable thing to keep his seat in Republican hands," said a GOP strategist who was granted anonymity so he could speak candidly without fear of reprisal. "Bob Ney, up to this point, has refused to acknowledge the gravity of his situation."

Let's take a closer look at Ney and DeLay to compare their predicaments. For the sake of clarity, we've decided to separate the legal situations of Delay and Ney from their political circumstances.

Legally, DeLay faced more imminent problems than Ney.

DeLay is currently under indictment in Texas for his role in an alleged money laundering scheme run through his Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee. In the federal investigation into the ever-broadening pay to play scandal surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, DeLay has watched as several of his key aides (including his former press secretary and deputy chief of staff) have plead guilty to various crimes. But DeLay has never been directly implicated, and he has said publicly that investigators have told him he is not a focus of the Abramoff probe.

Ney, on the other hand, has been repeatedly referenced by both Abramoff and Tony Rudy in their plea agreements with prosecutors -- although never by name. Known as "Representative #1" in the Abramoff plea document, Ney is alleged to have accepted a variety of trips and gifts from Abramoff and his associates in exchange for official actions.

Ney has denied any wrongdoing, although he has acknowledged his legal peril by declaring that he will run for reelection even if he is indicted. The chairman of the Ohio Republican Party has said Ney should resign if indicted.

Politically, an argument can be made that Ney is currently in as much, if not more trouble than DeLay.

DeLay's resignation announcement came almost a month after his formally becoming the party's nominee; Ney will face voters in his 18th District for the first time on May 2. In that primary race, Ney is matched against financial analyst James Brodbelt Harris, a youthful, first-time candidate given no chance of ousting Ney.

Even Ney's biggest critics within his party want him to stay on the ballot through May 2 -- if he dropped from the race before that time, Harris would need just a single vote to win the nomination. National Republicans would prefer the opportunity to influence the selection process of a replacement nominee, which is only possible if Ney steps down after becoming the party's official nominee.

In talking to Republicans familiar with internal polling in the DeLay and Ney races, the Ohio Congressman is currently in worse shape. Although DeLay made his final decision to resign after being presented with a poll that showed him essentially tied with former Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson, Ney continues to forge forward although private surveys have shown him trailing the two most likely Democratic candidates -- Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer and attorney Zach Space.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for Ney's campaign, insists that Ney is in far stronger shape in his home district than DeLay -- pointing out that his boss won a sixth term in 2004 with 66 percent of the vote, overperforming President George W. Bush in the district by nine points. By contrast DeLay won an eleventh term in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote, nine points less than Bush received in the 22nd District.

"[Ney] recognizes that the negative news articles have raised questions in the minds of his constituents which is why he has been working overtime in getting out and around the district at countless events and answering any and all questions that his constituents might have," Walsh said.

While true, a comparison between the last reelection contests of Ney and DeLay is a bit misleading. In 2004, a wide variety of liberal soft-money groups spent heavily to defeat DeLay in his district, running ads informing voters of his alleged ethical transgressions. These groups also helped Richard Morrison, the Democratic nominee, raise and spend better than $685,000. Ney's '04 opponent, on the other hand, spent just $18,000 on his campaign and there was no involvement from large liberal 527s during the campaign.

Ney is sure to be target no. 1 of these groups should he remain on the ballot in November. "It's hard to see how he can raise money and beat back the Democrat 527s," said one prominent Republican consultant. At the end of 2005, Ney had $582,000 in the bank.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 6, 2006; 8:15 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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Next: Texas 22: Lampson Pushes Special Election For DeLay's Seat

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