WASHINGTON (AP) – Tom DeLay leaves a troubling legacy for Republicans as they face re-election.
The Texan, once one of the most powerful and feared leaders of Congress, joined Newt Gingrich in helping to lead Republicans to power in 1994. But he became a symbol of the widening ethics scandal that now clouds GOP prospects for continued control.
Republicans face voters weary of corruption allegations and the heavy-handed tactics DeLay came to personify. At the same time, GOP candidates are further weighed down by President Bush’s low approval ratings and the unpopularity of the war in Iraq.
“It’s hard to believe that in just 12 years, Republicans could end up in the same situation that it took Democrats 40 years to get in,” said Republican strategist Frank Luntz.
Luntz, who was once Gingrich’s pollster and who helped orchestrate the 1994 “Contract With America,” a set of unifying GOP policy initiatives, said the GOP majority now seems “tired” and those speaking out for change and innovation “are just not being noticed.”
Republicans hold 231 of the 435 House seats. Democrats have 201. There is one independent and two vacancies.
DeLay said yesterday he would resign from Congress rather than seek a 12th term so as not to hurt Republican chances. He acknowledged his re-election prospects were threatened.
The voters of his Houston-area district “deserve a campaign about the vital national issues that they care most about and that affect their lives every day, and not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me,” DeLay said.
He had stepped aside as House majority leader last fall after a grand jury in Texas indicted him, accusing him of funneling illegal corporate contributions into state legislative races. In January, he decided against trying to get the leadership post back amid a spreading election-year corruption scandal.
Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, once a key DeLay ally, and two of DeLay’s former aides have pleaded guilty in a Justice Department corruption probe and are cooperating with prosecutors.
DeLay’s resignation “marks the end of a 12-year reign of unquestioned Republican dominance and casts a shadow on the chances of Republicans in the fall elections,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who specializes in Congress.
Under DeLay’s sometimes iron-fisted rule, House Republicans marched pretty much in lockstep during Bush’s first term, delivering one legislative victory after another. “Republicans, however loyal they may have been in the past, are now taking an every-man-for-himself attitude,” Baker said.