Democratic officials and a well-funded liberal advocacy group said yesterday that they will try to capitalize on the new visibility of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) by casting him as a symbol of Republican excess, as critics once did with former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
Democratic officials in the House and Senate said that news coverage of DeLay's travel and ties to lobbyists, and his high profile in the congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, has given them an opening to use him as more of a foil. They said that until now, he was so little known to the public -- despite his enormous power at the Capitol -- that attacks on him were not effective.
The Campaign for America's Future, backed by labor and other liberal leaders, plans to announce today that DeLay will be featured in television ads in at least four Republican House districts. The group said it is buying a 30-second ad in DeLay's suburban Houston district that shows a man wearing cuff links and a Rolex watch, and washing his hands.
"Tom DeLay: He'd like to wash his hands of corruption," the announcer says before recounting charges against the majority leader. "Tom DeLay can't wash his hands of corruption," the ad concludes. "But Congress can certainly wash its hands of Tom DeLay."
The group also plans ads designed to put pressure on Republican members to "stand with DeLay or decency."
The announcement will come two days after the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal said: "The Beltway wisdom is right. Mr. DeLay does have odor issues. Increasingly, he smells just like the Beltway itself."
Democratic strategist Jim Jordan said he expects dozens of campaign ads next year to show GOP candidates morphing into DeLay. "Take a secret ballot of his caucus, ask how many want to be campaigning with the guy," he said.
The Campaign for America's Future has a list of advisers that includes feminist Betty Friedan. Republicans contend that the group has ties to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She is on the advisory committee of the Progressive Majority. That political action committee's board chairman is Robert L. Borosage, who is co-director of Campaign for America's Future.
Dan Allen, DeLay's communications director, said: "House Democrats have no agenda, ideas or solutions, and they have resorted to a well-organized and carefully orchestrated scorched-earth strategy against House Republicans that is being funded by liberal heavy hitters."
DeLay is making stops in his district this week at events announced to local but not national reporters. Yesterday, DeLay attended a luncheon of the Pearl Land Rotary Club, toured a school and opened a district office in Clear Lake. At Ellington Field, a civil/military airport operated by the City of Houston, he appeared with workers who will benefit from funding he helped obtain for a combat vehicle.