DeLay Departure Alters Election Landscape

The resignation of Congressman Tom DeLay (R-TX) may affect how the "ethics" issue plays in the 2006 mid-term election campaign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Republicans and Democrats all agree that Congress will be a different place without Tom DeLay.

Facing a tough reelection battle, the Texas Republican surprised his constituents and the capital yesterday by announcing that he will resign his seat in the coming months.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

During a vote last week, Tom DeLay entered the House chamber by a side door, quickly cast his vote, and just as quickly left the chamber. It was a far cry from the way DeLay used to work the floor as majority leader, and before that, whip, when he sometimes joked with, often cajoled, reluctant members to vote his way.

But last fall, DeLay was forced to step aside from the leadership after having been indicted by a Texas prosecutor for alleged campaign finance violations. Since then, he's been linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Two of his former aides have pleaded guilty to federal prosecutors on corruption charges; most recently his one-time Deputy Chief of Staff, Tony Rudy.

DeLay told NPR his decision to resign was about counting votes, not indictments.

Representative TOM DELAY (Republican, Texas): I made this decision before I knew what Tony Rudy was going to do. The Abramoff stuff has nothing to do with me. The Department of Justice has told my lawyers that I'm not a target of this investigation. I know my detractors and enemies are trying to prove me guilty by association, but unfortunately, they're not going to get to do that.

NAYLOR: Before last fall, DeLay was a driving force behind the conservative GOP agenda in Washington. For Democrats, he was a favorite villain. He helped build and expand the Republican majority in Congress, led the House impeachment of President Clinton, and delivered time and again for his party, on everything from tax cuts to social issues like abortion.

President Bush yesterday expressed sympathy with DeLay, but also optimism for Republicans.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My own judgment is, is that our party will continue to succeed, because we're the party of ideas.

NAYLOR: But DeLay's departure, in itself, doesn't end Republican troubles going into the midterm elections. Polls show voters are dissatisfied with Republican control of Congress and more inclined to vote for Democrats.

Both sides play down the effect of DeLay's resignation on the fall campaigns.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): This isn't about--just about Tom DeLay, although he's the ringleader. It's about the Republicans in Congress who enabled and benefited from his corruption.

Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): Well, I look at that as Democratic beltway mantra.

NAYLOR: Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds, from New York, chairs the House GOP Campaign Committee. He insists Congressional races will turn on local concerns, not Tom DeLay.

Representative REYNOLDS: When you get into this, it's all about what each district has going for itself. And some, like mine, are talking about jobs. Others may be talking about border security. Whatever it is, we believe it's between both the incumbents and the candidates and their districts, making it all politics is local.

NAYLOR: If those are the terms of battle, Republicans feel they have the edge going into the fall, while Democrats hope to ride a national wave of distrust of DeLay and the GOP into a majority in November.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capital.

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