After court loss, GOP may lose DeLay's House seat

Republicans aim for a write-in campaign to replace the indicted Texas congressman, but it's an uphill battle.

Every time Texan Brett Koppe steps into a voting booth, he does the same thing: pull a straight GOP ticket.

But this year's congressional race here in southeast Texas is a touch more confusing. The incumbent, embattled former House majority leader Tom DeLay, says he's not running. The courts say the GOP can't replace him on the ballot.

That leaves Mr. Koppe and his fellow Republicans in a quandary. Should they vote for the libertarian candidate or (gasp) Nick Lampson, the Democratic nominee?

"The alternative is destructive," says Koppe.

So GOP leaders in District 22 are gearing up for a massive write-in campaign in support of one of the candidates they wanted to replace Mr. DeLay with in the first place. There's just one problem.

Winning an election with a write-in candidate is an extreme long shot, political scientists say.

"The last time a write-in candidate won in a high-profile election was Strom Thurmond in the early 1950s," says Calvin Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

That suggests that District 22, which has sent a Republican to Congress in every election since 1978, could go Democratic, analysts say, especially since the US Supreme Court declined to intervene early this week.

"I think the seat goes to Lampson as a result of this court decision," Professor Jillson says.

The high court was the GOP's last shot at getting an alternate on the ballot – and avoiding the write-in option – after the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DeLay's name could not be replaced.

DeLay won the Republican nomination in the March primary after handily fending off three challengers, but withdrew from the race in April because he said he didn't want his criminal indictment in Texas on campaign money-laundering charges to interfere with the election.

He resigned from Congress in June, but vowed to continue working for Republican causes behind the scenes. Finally, he attempted to make himself ineligible to stay on the ballot by changing his voter-registration card and driver's license to Virginia.

But Democrats immediately sued when Republicans began selecting a new candidate – claiming that both state and federal law do not allow a party to replace a nominee under such circumstances.

DeLay, in fact, still owns a home in Sugar Land and was in town when the rulings came down.

He sent word through the Houston Chronicle that he would withdraw his name from the ballot. "To do anything else would be hypocrisy," he said in a written statement. "I strongly encourage the Republican Party to take any and all actions necessary to give Texas voters an up-or-down choice this fall between two major party candidates."

Republicans say the Democrats' intense fight to keep his name on the ballot proves that their only chance at winning the seat is at the courthouse, not the ballot box.

"A lot of people are very offended by the Democratic party for bringing this lawsuit," says Gary Gillen, chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County. "They see the Democrats as trying to control this election" instead of giving voters meaningful choices.

Democrats say the Republicans' intense fight to remove DeLay's name from the ballot proves that he is a liability for his party, in part because of his legal difficulties and in part because of his close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"I was worried that they were going to put somebody else on the ballot who wasn't such a crook" and would easily get reelected in this Republican district, says Cindy Blakley, who drives around this heavily Republican district with a Lampson bumper sticker.

Even many of her Republican friends are getting fed up with the GOP, she adds. "A lot of people have just had enough."

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