A Three-Way Contest to Replace Tom Delay

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A Houston councilwoman, Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, will run for former Rep. Tom Delay's House seat in Texas as a write-in candidate. Also in the race: former Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat, and Libertarian Bob Smither. Larry Schooler of member station KUT and Scott Simon look at the race.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce. Car insurance? But first, midterm elections are November 7 and state Republican Party leaders in Texas have thrown their support behind Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs in Congressional District 22.

Now, that's the part of Texas that covers Harris County, the city of Sugar Land, Missouri City and surrounding areas. It's also the part of Texas that used to be the domain of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay. Dr. Sekula-Gibbs is a Houston city councilwoman. She will be a write-in candidate and faces former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither in the race.

Larry Schooler, a reporter with KUT in Austin, joins us from there. Larry, thanks for being with us.

LARRY SCHOOLER: My pleasure, Scott. Thanks.

SIMON: And please tell us a bit about Dr. Sekula-Gibbs and what makes her attractive to the Texas Republican Party.

SCHOOLER: Well, Scott, she's a three-term councilwoman and she's term limited, so she's kind of looking for another job. She had tended to get a lot of support from the Houston medical community, which is a pretty important part of the economy down there, obviously, with the Texas Medical Center. So she's built a pretty solid base of support over the years.

During her tenure she's focused on health issues, but she's also in recent years kind of veered a little bit to the right, taking a pretty aggressive stand on illegal immigration. She opposed the expansion of a day labor center in an effort to try to shore up her Republican credentials.

SIMON: So we have a circumstance here where the Republican has to run as a write-in candidate because, to remind our audience, Tom Delay has withdrawn but he couldn't be replaced by another Republican candidate because of a court ruling.

SCHOOLER: That's right. The Democrats took the Republicans to court a month or so ago and said that it just wasn't fair for the Republicans to sort of hand-pick a candidate to replace the Congressman, especially after he'd won the primary in March.

So now we get to point, where the Republicans are forced to essentially just aggressively back a write-in candidate.

SIMON: What kind of district is it now? Does it seem obviously Republican or Democratic?

SCHOOLER: You know, it's a curious district, Scott. As you'll remember, of course, Texas underwent a major Congressional redistricting about three years ago, one that was challenged in the Supreme Court. Tom Delay was a big part of that redistricting effort, and he ended up actually drawing himself a district, the 22nd, which was slightly less Republican than it had been before 2003.

From what I gather from my reporting, it's about 55 percent or so Republican, but with a write-in campaign, the sources I've talked to say that's going to make it a little bit more tricky when it's so closely divided.

SIMON: And so all of this is making Democrats think they can win Tom Delay's old district?

SCHOOLER: Yeah. And frankly, Scott, I think they've thought that for a long time. I mean Democrat Nick Lampson, who used to be a Congressman and he was kind of redistricted out, he's been campaigning for over a year now. He's racked up about $2 million in campaign funds, whereas neither Dr. Sekula-Gibbs or another candidate, David Wallace, have more than about, you know, a few hundred thousand dollars in campaign funds and we're less than three months out.

But it is still a 55 percent Republican district, so I'm sure it'll still be an interesting race.

SIMON: Larry Schooler at KUT in Austin. Thanks very much.

SCHOOLER: My pleasure, Scott.

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