[[C R I M E]] * And the news just keeps getting worse for Republican former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. He had to step down from his congressional leadership post in September, following his indictment by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy and money laundering related to the dispersal of $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions. Then on Monday, a senior district judge in the Lone Star State dismissed the conspiracy indictment, but he let stand money-laundering charges against DeLay and a pair of his political associates, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro. The trio were indicted in connection with dispersals of corporate cash during the 2002 legislative races. (Under Texas law, it’s illegal for corporations to make donations to political races.)
As Salon’s War Room blog points out, the judge’s refusal to dismiss the money-laundering charges, and the possibility that DeLay’s trial could drag on for many months, means that the former Republican strongman’s chances of reclaiming his cozy majority leader’s seat are iffy, at best. Despite DeLay’s insistence that no plans are in the works to replace him permanently (he’s already been replaced temporarily by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt [R-Missouri]), The Washington Post reports that GOP backing for a leadership change is mounting. Republicans--already having to defend themselves against Democratic allegations that they’ve created a “culture of corruption” in the U.S. capital--fear that DeLay will next be “implicated in the bribery and corruption investigations of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).” (DeLay may have passed up his best opportunity to keep the majority leader’s chair in October, when he rejected a plea bargain deal offered by Travis County, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle.)
If all that bad news weren’t enough to wipe the grin off DeLay’s face, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released this week shows that 49 percent of the voters in Texas’ solidly Republican 22nd congressional district--which DeLay has represented since 1984--are likely to vote for an unnamed Democratic candidate in next year’s midterm elections. Only 36 percent say they’ll support the embattled DeLay. The same survey found that 52 percent of his constituents now have an unfavorable view of the ex-House majority leader, while 37 percent view him favorably. DeLay has faced tough campaigns before, but as former Clinton adviser Paul Begala (who grew up in what’s now the Republican congressman’s district) muses at the TPM Café site, this time, “DeLay’s sleaze, combined with the quagmire in Iraq and Bush’s sinking approval, could prove fatal.”
UPDATE: The Boston Globe reports that U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has scheduled the first House session of next year for January 31--two weeks after the Senate is set to resume work. As the Globe explains, this tardy start is designed specifically to give DeLay more time to “dispose of the charges” brought against him, if possible, and thereafter solidity support for his return to majority leader’s chair. “[N]ew leadership elections could not occur until the House is back in session,” the paper points out.
READ MORE: “How to Replace Tom DeLay: A Guide to Congressional Leadership Elections,” by Daniel Engber (Slate).