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House Win Adds Insult to Injury for DeLay

Ciro Rodriguez's win, and Tom DeLay's departure, may signal a new day for Democrats in Texas.
Ciro Rodriguez's win, and Tom DeLay's departure, may signal a new day for Democrats in Texas. (By Eric Gay -- Associated Press)

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By Sylvia Moreno and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer and washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006

AUSTIN, Dec. 13 -- Former congressman Ciro Rodriguez's victory in a House runoff election Tuesday in Texas not only allowed Democrats to pick up their 30th seat of the 2006 elections but served as a final rebuke to one of the architects of the Republican House majority: Tom DeLay.

The former congressman from Texas was the mastermind of a 2003 redrawing of congressional lines in the state that led to the removal of six House Democrats in the 2004 elections.

Two years later, DeLay's fortunes have suffered a near-total reversal, as the redistricting map that once seemed certain to cement his legacy and GOP majorities for years has instead led to the end of that career and may well be a building block for a reenergized Democratic Party in the state.

On Nov. 7, a Democrat won the seat vacated by DeLay, and on Tuesday, Rodriguez defeated seven-term Rep. Henry Bonilla in the runoff in Texas's 23rd District. With nearly all precincts reporting in the state's largest district, Rodriguez had won 54 percent of the vote to Bonilla's 45 percent.

"The genius of Tom DeLay is now seriously in question," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. He added that the overall result of the DeLay-led redistricting plan was, "at best, a wash for Texas."

Asked about the effect of the plan, DeLay flashed a bit of the hardball rhetoric that made him both famous and infamous. "The redistricting plan was quite successful -- after all, it made a political has-been out of Martin Frost," he said, referring to his longtime Democratic nemesis, who lost to Rep. Pete Sessions in 2004.

Frost was one of four Democratic congressmen defeated in that year's general election. Two others lost in a primary or chose not to run for reelection.

DeLay has begun his own blog, TomDeLay.com, aimed at building a home for conservatives on the Internet as well as rehabbing his somewhat tarnished reputation. The blog logged 150,000 page views in its first days.

If DeLay decimated Democrats in 2004, he also seems responsible for their revival. He was forced to resign as House majority leader after his indictment by a grand jury in Travis County, Tex., in connection with the alleged funneling of illegal corporate contributions into state legislative races. This past April, he announced that he would not seek reelection. Former congressman Nick Lampson, a victim of the Republican-led redistricting, claimed DeLay's seat.

The Supreme Court struck another blow to DeLay when it ruled that portions of the map he devised were in violation of the Voting Rights Act. That decision forced the redrawing of Bonilla's district to include thousands more Hispanic voters.

Even so, Bonilla nearly avoided a runoff when he won 49 percent of the vote on Nov. 7. Six Democrats and an independent split the remainder, with Rodriguez, who had held the neighboring 28th District from 1996 until 2004, leading the pack with 20 percent.

Phil Ricks, Bonilla's campaign spokesman, cautioned against reading too much into the race, saying that "if not for some voter confusion," the congressman would have won without a runoff.

But Democrats would have none of it, insisting that Rodriguez's win on Tuesday coupled with DeLay's departure signal a new day for the party in the state. Matt Angle, a former senior strategist for Frost, said that Democrats are looking to 2010 to break the Republican lock on statewide offices.

As for DeLay, Angle offered a bitter assessment. "Before this election, DeLay was in the grave with dirt on top of him," he said. "This is a final repudiation of DeLay's arrogance and bullying ways."

Cillizza reported from Washington.


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