DeLay Uses Campaign Tactics to Fight Charges
Sunday, November 6, 2005
With his future tied to the outcome of a criminal indictment in Texas, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is using an extraordinary array of campaign tactics to try to win his court battle and save his political career.
Other politicians caught in a legal bind have tried to make a similar case that they were victims of prosecutorial excess or partisan attack. But few have done it to the degree of DeLay and his allies, who have launched an aggressive campaign to portray the former House majority leader as both a victim of a vendetta and an irreplaceable champion of conservatism.
By so doing, DeLay's team hopes to accomplish three critical goals: undermine the stature of his Democratic prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, in the minds of potential Texas jurors; win over DeLay's suburban Houston constituents before a potentially difficult reelection campaign; and retain his political base in Washington before a planned return to power.
The effort includes television advertisement that portrays Earle as a snarling Rottweiler, a staff of well-connected communications aides and skillful lawyers, e-mail blitzes, talking points for friendly radio hosts, speeches and a bulging legal defense fund.
"There's a parallel campaign going on, with his audiences, his constituency in Texas and the [Republican] conference here in Washington," Kevin Madden, a DeLay spokesman, said. "It's important that his constituents and his colleagues understand the egregious nature of the charges he faces."
DeLay's indictments in September on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to illegally funnel corporate money into the 2002 state election forced him to step aside as majority leader as required under House rules. Ever since, DeLay has pleaded with Republicans to hold off permanently replacing him while he fights the charges.
But power in Washington, if not exercised, slips away quickly, said a senior House Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his relationship with DeLay.
"DeLay knows this," the lawmaker said. "He knows every day that goes by is a day he grows weaker."
That is why he has struggled to maintain a high profile, even though some Republicans are openly worried that his ethical issues are tarring them while his unsettled role in the leadership is sowing discord.
It is hardly unusual for the lawyers of a high-profile defendant to press their case with the public, said Lynn M. LoPucki, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
But legal and political experts could not find an example in the political realm that matches DeLay's efforts in terms of sheer scale.
"What I think is breathtaking is DeLay taking yet another first step," said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.