Texas Republicans Scramble to Replace Tom DeLay
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says he will do whatever is necessary to remove his name from the November ballot - even if that means the Republican line will be blank in the Congressional district he represented for more than two decades.
Earlier, the Texas Republican Party had tried to replace him on the ballot, but that effort failed in the courts. Now the party hopes to rally voters behind a write-in candidate.
Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.
LAURIE JOHNSON reporting:
Republicans in the sprawling 22nd District of Texas are used to being in charge. But even here, you can't beat something with nothing, and if former Congressman Tom DeLay succeeds in removing his name, the Republicans will have no candidate for Congress on the fall ballot.
Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman Gary Gillen says the courts have left the local GOP in a tough spot.
Mr. GARY GILLEN (Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman): It leaves us with only one option, and that is a write-in campaign. A write-in campaign that you normally think about for a school board or a city council race, something like that. We're talking about a Congressional race. We're talking about a race that covers four counties. And that's going to be pretty difficult.
JOHNSON: Party officials are concerned that voters simply won't know what to do at the polls if they have to write in a candidate's name. That's exactly what Democrats like Sugar Land resident Bruce Schoendorf(ph) are hoping for.
Mr. BRUCE SCHOENDORF (Texas Democrat): Hopefully, it'll be helpful to the Democratic Party, and it'll make it confusing for Republicans only. And it might help get a Democrat elected out here.
JOHNSON: It's also not clear just how the write-in candidate would be chosen. One local mayor, David Wallace of Sugar Land, has announced his candidacy. He's well-known on the west side of the district in Fort Bend County, but three-fifths of the district's people live in the other three counties, which could produce other contenders who could enter the race and divide the Republican vote.
All this leads some observers to one conclusion.
Mr. BILL MILLER (Political Consultant, Texas): Write-in candidates don't win. Period.
JOHNSON: Bill Miller is a political consultant who analyzes campaigns in the Texas capital of Austin. He says you can't get enough people to write in the name of a single candidate, especially when the other party has a well-known name like Nick Lampson, a former Democratic member of Congress who's already been campaigning actively for months.
Mr. MILLER: The Democrats will be overjoyed, because Nick Lampson will be the next congressman. The Republicans will not be successful with a write-in strategy, and it effectively ends any contention in that race. It's over with.
JOHNSON: Even if that's true, some Republicans may prefer the write-in to a half-hearted comeback bid by DeLay.
The long time incumbent faces trial next year on charges of political money laundering, and remains at risk in Washington in the continuing investigation of disgraced influence peddler Jack Abramoff.
District 22 resident Sandy Yonley(ph) says DeLay had become a liability for his party and his district, and she welcomes having the write-in option instead.
Ms. SANDY YONLEY (District 22 Resident, Texas): Tom DeLay was not well received by a lot of Republicans. So I think it might be a mixed blessing.
JOHNSON: For his part, DeLay says he's relocated to Virginia and wants to get on with his new career as a conservative activist. By not running, he also preserves his remaining campaign funds - more than $600,000 as of June 30th - to pay for current or future legal bills.
For NPR News, I'm Laurie Johnson in Houston.
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