Discontent With GOP Finds Way Into Texas

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; 3:19 PM

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas -- The economy is strong and Rickye Lennon's excavation business is thriving. Yet his son may soon go to war, government scandals are in the news, and Lennon, a Republican deep in the heart of Bush country, doesn't think his party should remain in charge of Congress.

"I think we need a wake-up call," said Lennon, 50, of Dripping Springs. "They need to be paying attention to the issues the people are concerned about and I think we need to become more moderate in our views."

Three weeks to the midterm elections, GOP discontent is seeping into the home state of President Bush, where every statewide elected official is a Republican.

The state's Republican House members were supposed to be protected from such voter mood swings by the 2003 redrawing of the state's congressional districts, orchestrated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

But largely because of DeLay, who resigned in June embroiled in scandal, Texas this year unexpectedly is one of the states that could help Democrats wrest control of the House from the GOP this November. Races for three of the state's 32 congressional seats are considered competitive.

No Republican is listed on the ballot in the race for the seat once held by DeLay. That's left Democrat Nick Lampson the favorite against write-in Republican candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

Democrats hope the congressional page scandal will help push Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla into a runoff against one of his seven challengers for a district stretching from near El Paso to Laredo.

And voter unease also may thwart Republican efforts to seize the Central Texas district that is home to Bush's ranch, a congressional seat now held by Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards.

There is disquiet in the state's gubernatorial race, too, in which incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Perry is polling only in the high 30s against three challengers.

Walter Dean Burnham, a professor emeritus in the University of Texas at Austin government department, said that while "there certainly is some sign of discontent" in the state, he expected its impact in congressional races to be limited.

"I don't see any good reason the love affair with the Republican Party has weakened all that much," he said.

News that Republican Rep. Mark Foley sent illicit electronic messages to congressional pages was unfolding when Lennon stopped at the Dripping Springs post office recently. A cap embroidered with "Legends of Texas Swing Music Festival" shielded his eyes as he slapped dust from his jeans.

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