DeLay to quit race, House officials say

Ex-majority leader expected to make statement today

April 04, 2006|By JILL ZUCKMAN AND JEFF ZELENY

WASHINGTON -- With his aides pleading guilty to corruption charges and cooperating with federal investigators, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has decided not to run for re-election, according to senior House Republican officials.

Long known as "the Hammer" for keeping Republican troops in line, the Texan stepped down from his leadership post after a Texas grand jury indicted him in a campaign-finance scandal and his legal troubles mounted. But he vowed to stay in Congress as he fought the charges.

Last week, however, DeLay decided to resign from Congress, according to a source close to the lawmaker. He informed President Bush of his decision yesterday and told other senior Republican leaders as well. DeLay plans to make a public announcement today, and sources say he is likely to leave Capitol Hill by Memorial Day.

A senior Republican official said late yesterday that the decision not to seek re-election was DeLay's and that neither the White House nor House leaders urged him to drop his campaign.

DeLay, who will turn 59 on Saturday, recently won the Republican primary for his seat, and a senior Republican official familiar with DeLay's plans said that his victory gave DeLay "a graceful way to go out with the electoral support of his constituents."

DeLay's decision, which was first reported by Time magazine on its Web site, came as his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty Friday to charges that he conspired with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials.

That plea followed another guilty plea from DeLay's former press secretary, Michael Scanlon. Abramoff has also pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced last week to nearly six years in prison.

The Texas congressman has been a pivotal figure in the Republican Party for a dozen years, outlasting every other member of the original leadership team that rode into office after the GOP seized control of Congress in the historic midterm elections of 1994.

But his recent travails had clearly hurt fellow Republicans, opening them to Democratic charges that they had been engaged in a "culture of corruption" at the expense of the American people.

DeLay's decision to drop his re-election bid comes seven months before the fall congressional elections. He would have faced Democrat Nick Lampson, a former member of Congress who has waged a vigorous campaign to oust DeLay in their suburban Houston district.

DeLay's decision could well keep his district in GOP hands. Republican polling showed that DeLay would have had a difficult time fending off the coordinated attacks of the national Democratic Party, as well as that of Lampson.

When he stepped down as majority leader, DeLay insisted last fall that the charges against him were without merit.

"Let me be very clear: I have done nothing wrong," said DeLay, calling the indictment "a sham," "baseless" and "political retribution" by a "partisan fanatic" in Texas.

While the target of his venom was the Travis County District Attorney, Ronnie Earle, DeLay faces the possibility of more serious charges by federal officials who have been probing an extensive web of corruption that seemed to stem from Abramoff's deal-making on Capitol Hill.

The conservative DeLay has long been a powerful figure in Congress, feared and revered for twisting arms as well as taking care of members with perks and late-night meals. His absence has been noticeable as the House Republican conference struggled to elect a new leader and has been reeling for lack of direction.

Besides being an expert vote counter, DeLay was renowned for his fundraising abilities among lobbyists and his insistence that businesses and organizations that wanted his help must hire only Republicans.

In an interview with Time magazine that was posted late yesterday on the magazine's Web site, DeLay said he did not want to risk losing his seat to Democrats. He added that he spent "a lot of time in prayer" over the decision, which "was obvious to me - I'm a realist."

"I've been around awhile. I can evaluate political situations. And it was obvious to me that the 22nd District needed an election that discussed issues," DeLay said in the interview. "It was obvious to me that this election had become a referendum on me."

Jill Zuckman and Jeff Zeleny write for the Chicago Tribune.

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