Thursday, March 31, 2005

Conservative leaders say defending House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is a litmus test for any Republican lawmaker seeking their support, even as a liberal advocacy group announced yesterday it will run commercials questioning Mr. DeLay’s ethics in some House Republicans’ districts.

“Tom DeLay is the chosen leader of his party in the House. He needs to be held accountable, and so should House Republicans, who have to choose between DeLay and decency,” said Ellen Miller, deputy director of the Campaign for America’s Future, which will run $75,000 in ads on television in Washington and in Houston, near Mr. DeLay’s congressional district.

Meanwhile, the Public Campaign Action Fund will run $25,000 worth of ads criticizing Mr. DeLay in the districts of three Republicans: ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, and Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut.

They argue that Mr. DeLay’s several admonishments by the House ethics committee make him unfit to serve. Democrats have accused Mr. DeLay of taking questionable paid trips from lobbyists and of dubious fundraising practices.

But conservatives say the attacks against Mr. DeLay are against the broader conservative movement, and many of them met last week in Washington to plot a defense.

“I think in the last couple of weeks, it’s become apparent to many conservative groups in Washington that this is really, in many ways, an attack on them and their ideas, using Mr. DeLay as the surrogate target,” said Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, a political action committee.

In a meeting first reported by the Hill newspaper, the grass-roots leaders heard from Mr. DeLay, who answered questions about ethics charges and recent press reports, and from House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

“Everything that I witnessed was very much a consensus on the fact there is an all-out assault on the conservative movement in this country, and it’s risen to the level that we need to take it very seriously,” Mr. Cantor said.

After Mr. Cantor and Mr. DeLay left, the conservative leaders decided to act. Grass-roots organizations such as the American Conservative Union (ACU) are trying to shore up support for Mr. DeLay within their membership, and participants say one idea is to hold a banquet supporting Mr. DeLay.

Morton Blackwell, Republican National Committee member from Virginia and a member of ACU’s board, said Republicans are being told support for Mr. DeLay is mandatory if they want future support from conservatives.

“Conservative leaders across the country are working now to make sure that any politician who hopes to have conservative support in the future had better be in the forefront as we attack those who attack Tom DeLay,” he said.

David Donnelly, political director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, said his group is targeting Mr. Simmons because he accepted money from a fundraiser Mr. DeLay held, and Mr. Donnelly said other Republicans who accept help from Mr. DeLay will also be targeted in advertisements.

Dan Allen, spokesman for Mr. DeLay, said the ads are part of a strategy led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

“Campaign for America’s Future is just another in a long line of front groups working in tandem with Ms. Pelosi and her House Democrats, and they’re being funded by liberal heavy-hitters like George Soros,” he said, referring to the left-leaning billionaire activist.

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