DeLay Triumphs in Republican Primary
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Tom DeLay lives to fight another day. That could be the headline from yesterday's Texas primaries; the first in Campaign 2006, which will determine whether Republicans can continue their hold on both the House and Senate.
This is the first time Tom DeLay has faced voters since he was indicted last year and forced to give up his post as majority leader. Joining me to talk about yesterday's results is NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin. Good morning.
KEN RUDIN reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tom DeLay got about 62 percent of the vote in the primary. It appears to be good news for his chances in November.
RUDIN: Well in a sense, actually nothing has changed from yesterday's primary. He's still under indictment, as you've said, in a money-laundering case in Texas. His name is still linked with Jack Abramoff, the convicted Republican lobbyist in Washington. He is still the number-one target for the Democrats in the House in November. And the Democratic challenger, Nick Lampson, the former congressman, is still the best-funded challenger the Democrats have of any House race in the country.
Now having said that, again, a lot of people thought that maybe Tom DeLay would be forced into a runoff or even lose his challenge yesterday, and getting 62 percent of the Republican vote was certainly good news for him.
MONTAGNE: Well, tell us about DeLay's main rival in that vote, Tom Campbell.
RUDIN: Well, he had three Republican challenges. Tom Campbell was the leading challenger. Campbell was a Houston attorney, a first-time candidate. He ran a lot of TV ads where basically you heard the word integrity, integrity, integrity, over and over again. For a second, I thought that Tom Campbell's middle name was integrity. But the thing you knew about Tom Campbell was that he was not Tom DeLay. And a lot of Republicans were watching this to see whether being not Tom DeLay was enough, would it have been enough to stop the once-powerful, former House majority leader, and apparently it was not.
MONTAGNE: Well, Democrats, of course, have been railing about what they call the Republicans' "culture of corruption," how does that square with the fact that and integrity of it, cries of integrity on the Republican side, how does that square with the fact that DeLay easily won re-nomination yesterday?
RUDIN: Well, look, Tom DeLay has done a lot for the 22nd district in Texas. He's brought a lot of bridges and highways and largess to the district. He's also helped create a lot of Republican districts for the GOP in Texas and a lot of Republicans who were appreciative of that as well.
But the culture of corruption in a sense does not go away. The headlines about Duke Cunningham's record-sentence, prison sentence--a former congressman from California. His sentence is still in the headlines. Conrad Burns, the senator from Montana who's up for reelection, still took $150,000 from, from Jack Abramoff. Bob Ney the congressman from Ohio is still in some kind of legal difficulties.
So the issue hasn't gone away. But again, if you're looking for what, how the issue would play in Texas, it didn't play as big as some people thought it would.
MONTAGNE: Ken, Texas is the first primary, as we said, of 2006. Tell us what's at stake for the rest of the year in this battle for control of Congress.
RUDIN: The next primary is two weeks from now, April 21st, in Illinois, and Republicans are going to try to unite behind the nominee for governor. And that's going to be the theme for the Republican party, if they're going to retain the House and Senate that they won in 1994: keeping their base together.
What made Tom DeLay such an effective House Majority Leader is that he knew how to keep his troops in line. And I think the struggle, for the Republican strategists now, is to keep Republican voters from being disillusioned. We saw that in 1974 during Watergate-many Republican voters sat home. In 1994, during the anti-Clinton mid-term elections, many Democratic voters sat home. So, Republicans have to worry about that in November. If the Bush Administration's going to get anything accomplished in these final two years, they've got to keep control of Congress in November, and to do that, they've got to make sure their voters have a reason to come out and vote.
MONTAGNE: Ken, thanks very much.
RUDIN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Political Editor, Ken Rudin.
And you can read Ken's rundown on the contest at stake in the 2006 mid-term elections at NPR.org.