- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

SUGAR LAND, Texas — Rep. Tom DeLay faces the first hurdle to re-election today in the Republican primary, but the 11-term congressman has been campaigning since his indictment last year cost him the House majority leader post.

The former powerhouse behind House Republicans’ conservative agenda is running a retail political campaign in his suburban Houston district, touting his political clout —and the federal money he has guided home.

In one recent handout, Mr. DeLay boasts of securing more than $1 billion in federal money for Houston-area transportation projects, NASA, area universities, the port and various law-enforcement entities.

“You can’t be replaced without hurting Houston or Texas,” Houston lawyer Joe Slovacek told Mr. DeLay when introducing him recently to more than 200 Realtors and other businessmen.

Mr. DeLay is expected to defeat his three Republican opponents in the primary, setting up what political observers predict will be a tough general election race in November.

Since last year, he has been dogged by an indictment, secured by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, charging him with illegally funneling campaign money to Republican candidates to help the GOP take control of the Texas Legislature in 2002. That case is in limbo, pending the outcome of appeals before the state Supreme Court.

Mr. DeLay has also been the subject of news stories linking him to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to felony fraud and bribery charges, and though Mr. DeLay denies wrongdoing in both situations, the charges have damaged him.

“Getting beat up by the national media and the Chronicle [Houston’s daily newspaper] has taken its toll,” said Mr. DeLay at one stop.

“It’s polarized my district. You either love me or hate me. Thank God there are more that love me.”

Mr. DeLay doesn’t mention the indictment on the campaign trail unless somebody asks him about it, said his spokeswoman, Shannon Flaherty. She also said one of eight mailers the campaign had sent out included one where Mr. DeLay explained the entire matter.

The DeLay camp exudes confidence even though most polls indicate the congressman’s negatives are the highest in his political history and he actually trails his Democratic challenger, Nick Lampson.

Mr. Lampson, a four-time congressman before DeLay-led state redistricting rendered him virtually unelectable in his Beaumont-area district two years ago, has solid financial backing. Another ex-congressman, Steve Stockman, indicates he might run as an independent in November.

The three Republican candidates — schoolteacher Pat Baig and lawyers Tom Campbell and Michael Fjetland — probably won’t spend one-tenth as much in the race all together as the well-heeled DeLay campaign, and since none are well-known, most political watchers think it’s Mr. DeLay’s to lose.

It’s the first race for Mrs. Baig and Mr. Campbell. Mr. Fjetland has run unsuccessfully thrice before.

Mr. DeLay has singled out the candidate he figures is the strongest challenger and has attacked him in several venues: Mr. Campbell, the DeLay campaign says, doesn’t represent conservative issues and has seldom even voted in Republican primaries.

“He isn’t qualified to be a precinct chairman, let alone a congressman,” said Miss Flaherty.

Mr. Campbell’s campaign manager, Michael Stanley, says his candidate is not a career politician like Mr. DeLay, which he considers a plus, considering Mr. DeLay’s current legal troubles.

Mr. Campbell stresses a “return to integrity” in his campaign ads on cable TV and in persistent public appearances.

“If I wasn’t hurting him, he wouldn’t be attacking me,” he said of Mr. DeLay.

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