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When Tom DeLay resigned from Congress amid scandals, he said one of his goals was to keep Democrats from capturing his seat. Now the election's approaching, and Republicans have no candidate on the ballot in that Texas district.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports on how Republicans are trying to overcome that.
WADE GOODWYN: It's late on a Thursday night, but the turnout is good at the local library in Rosenberg, Texas - a suburb about 30 miles southwest of Houston.
Ms. SHELLEY SEKULA-GIBBS (Republican Candidate, 22nd Congressional District, Texas): Good afternoon, or evening. My name is Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. And I am the Republican Party selection for a congressional district 22.
GOODWYN: Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a former dermatologist turned Houston City Councilwoman, is making her pitch as to why she should be the one to replace Tom DeLay.
Ms. SEKULA-GIBBS: I ask you for your support because I believe like many of you fellow Americans, that it is important that we have a strong, conservative voice in Congress - conservative values, family values such as winning the war on terror, making sure that we don't cut and run.
GOODWYN: Here's the problem: Sekula-Gibbs' name is not on the ballot. By the time Tom DeLay decided to withdraw after winning the primary, a judge ruled it was too late for the GOP to replace his name with someone else's. That means that when Sekula-Gibbs is out campaigning, instead of talking about issues, she spends a lot of time explaining how to write in her name on the electronic ballot.
Ms. SEKULA-GIBBS: So the job they have to do is click right in, the alphabet will pop up, and then they would dial in select Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. I admit it's a little bit long, but they have to do their best to get it right.
GOODWYN: Even under the best circumstances, write-in campaigns are difficult. Only three candidates have been elected to Congress as write-ins over the past half-century. And this is far from an ideal political situation for Sekula-Gibbs. She is running in the wake of an indicted politician whose name has become synonymous for all that's wrong in Washington.
Mike Bergen is the vice president at a marketing information services company in Sugar Land. And he was a big fan of Tom DeLay. Standing by the fountains in front of Sugar Land's city hall, Bergen says he doesn't know much about Sekula-Gibbs.
Mr. MIKE BERGEN (Vice President of Marketing Information Service, Sugar Land, Texas): Not really. I mean, her name came up as we, you know, are tied in to the Houston news media. Her name comes up every once in awhile, but hadn't really known much about her.
GOODWYN: And when Bergen is told that if he wants to vote for her, he'll have to use an electronic dial to manually select each letter in Shelley Sekula-Gibbs name, he looks a little dubious.
Mr. BERGEN: It sounds a little tricky.
GOODWYN: Tricky indeed, but the race for DeLay's district will turn on it, and that's a nice advantage for the lucky Democrat to enjoy.
(Soundbite of a whistle)
Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible)
(Soundbite of a whistle)
GOODWYN: At the Fort Bend County fair, Nick Lampson is walking around with a big grin.
Mr. NICK LAMPSON (Democratic Candidate, 22nd Congressional District, Texas): This has been a - believe it or not, a fun race. I thought it would was going to be very difficult and very ugly. It has not turned out to be that way.
GOODWYN: Lampson, relaxed, moves from parade float to parade float, chatting people up. He's a veteran at this, having served four terms in Congress in a nearby district. That was before Tom DeLay redrew the lines, which ensured Lampson's defeat two years ago. He thought his political career was over forever.
Mr. LAMPSON: I went home and said I'm finished with politics. That was in January, and I lasted through February and March. And by the end of March, I had heard a story about escalating debt ceiling to $9 trillion. And I picked my grandson up from kindergarten one day, and all I could think of was $30,000 worth of debt for this kid.
GOODWYN: But when Tom DeLay redrew the Texas congressional map in order to get five new GOP seats, DeLay had to give away some Republican voters from his own district. Thanks to Tom DeLay, the 22nd district now has more Democratic voters than ever, as Nick Lampson is well aware.
Mr. LAMPSON: Demographically, this district is changing. It's not going to perform at the level at which it was drawn to perform as Republican. As more people have moved in here from Houston, typically, those folks will perform on a Democratic side. As the Latino community - which is 18 percent in population - begin to register and vote and participate, this district is not going to continue to perform on the Republican side.
(Soundbite of a siren)
GOODWYN: Lampson loves the irony that he is poised to win the seat of the man who took his away. He'll love it even more if his election helps to put the Democrats over the top in the House of Representatives.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.
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