By Erwin Seba
Indicted former U.S. House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay said on Tuesday he will not run for his former seat in Congress even though federal courts have ruled his name cannot be replaced on the November ballot.
"Earlier this year I resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives and became a resident of the state of Virginia, to establish my new business, and where I now legally reside, pay taxes and vote," DeLay said in a statement.
"This decision was and is irrevocable, which I made clear from Day One," DeLay said.
DeLay said he would act to remove himself from the ballot for the 22nd Texas congressional district in suburban Houston and encouraged the Texas Republican Party to offer a challenger to Democratic nominee ex-Rep. Nick Lampson.
A spokesman for the Texas secretary of state’s office said the only thing DeLay can do to take his name off the ballot is file to withdraw from the race, leaving the Republican Party with no nominee for the seat that DeLay, a leader of the GOP conservatives, held for 21 years.
University of Houston political science Professor Richard Murray said DeLay’s decision virtually hands the seat to Lampson.
"I would say there is a 98.5 percent chance Democrats will pick up that seat," Murray said. "Whether they can hold it down the road is another question."
Lampson’s campaign was not ready to declare victory on Tuesday.
"Tom DeLay has cut and run from this fight twice now, said Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise. "Nick will continue running his positive, issue-based campaign we hope the multiple write-in candidates who enter this race will do the same and reject DeLay’s brand of dirty politics."
Texas Republican Party strategists told the Houston Chronicle they were planning a campaign to write in a candidate.
U.S. District and Appeals courts ruled DeLay could not be replaced prior to the election without violating the U.S. Constitution.
Texas Republicans claimed DeLay was ineligible for the office under state law because he moved out of Texas. The courts said that, under the U.S. Constitution, a candidate’s residency can only be determined on election day and not before.
Due to discontent over the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the 2006 election is seen as the best chance for Democrats to gain control of the House since the Republicans won the majority in 1994.
In March, DeLay said he would resign from Congress and not seek re-election just days after beating three Republican rivals in the party’s primary election. Polls had shown he might lose to a Democrat.
DeLay and two former aides were indicted last year on charges of using corporate donations in 2002 state elections. DeLay maintains he did nothing wrong and the prosecution was political.
DeLay has also been tarnished by his association with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is at the center of an influence-peddling scandal that led Ohio Republican Rep. Robert Ney to give up his re-election effort this week.