By Peter Savodnik - 03/16/06 12:00 AM EST
The three Republicans who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in a recent primary either are saying they will not endorse him in the general election or are waiting to make up their minds.
Some political observers believe the lack of unity among Texas Republicans could hamper DeLay’s effort to retain his seat and question DeLay’s decision to lambaste his primary opponents soon after beating them earlier this month.
While primaries tend to be bruising, often far more so than general elections, political rivals generally unify behind a nominee in the wake of an election so that the party can move forward. Indeed, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, last week said on C-SPAN that Texas Republicans are good about putting their differences behind them and rallying around their party’s standard-bearer.
The Republicans’ failure, so far, to do just that in Texas’s 22nd District, in the Houston suburbs, suggests DeLay may have a tough time unifying his base as he heads into the general election against Democratic former Rep. Nick Lampson, Democrats said.
“I think it’s very reflective of how ready Texas-22 is for a change,” said Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “I think it’s pretty startling when even the party brass won’t get behind Tom DeLay.”
Michael Fjetland, one of the Republicans to challenge DeLay in the March 7 primary, said flatly: “I cannot endorse any felon.” DeLay is not a felon, but he has been indicted by Democratic Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and had extensive ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Fjetland, an attorney, added that he was “bothered” by DeLay’s remarks after his primary win. “None of us attacked him individually, only on the issues affecting people in the district,” he said.
Shortly after winning, DeLay issued a statement in which he accused his Republican challengers of taking their cue from Democrats.
“So what did the Republican primary last night show?” the statement said. “The candidates running against Tom DeLay all mimicked Democrat attacks and Democrat talking points. The voters of this district soundly rejected their campaigns, and sent a message that Tom DeLay’s dedication and faithful service to the issues and values of this district are what matters most.”
Tom Campbell, the environmental attorney who came in second in the primary, said that DeLay has a “problem with his base” and that he has yet to decide whether he will endorse DeLay.
“I think Mr. DeLay is engaging in a counterproductive but characteristic pattern of conduct. He’s attacking the messenger. … Ten thousand Republicans, many of which were conservative Republicans, voted against the incumbent, and they voted for another conservative as an alternative. Mr. DeLay should think about that, rather than simply attacking me as being a liberal Democrat, which simply the facts don’t support.”
Campbell added: “I am not part of any vast left-wing conspiracy.”
Pat Baig, who finished fourth in the GOP primary, stated, “I believe Tom DeLay embodies the malignancy that is destroying the integrity, credibility and historical cornerstones of the Republican Party. That is why I ran against him. I cannot vote for corruption; therefore, as in ’04, he will not have my vote in ’06.”
With his image sullied by the Abramoff scandal, President Bush’s poll numbers sinking to new lows and a well-funded former congressman challenging him, DeLay faces one of his greatest political battles since first being elected to Congress, in 1984.
While he has consistently won reelection handily, the congressman had one of his most difficult reelection battles in 2004, winning with 55 percent of the vote against a relative unknown.
Chris LaCivita, a former head of the Virginia Republican Party who is now a political consultant, dismissed talk of DeLay’s base being fractured, calling the primary a case of “sour grapes.”
“These guys just ran in a very contested primary and had their heads handed to them,” LaCivita said, noting that DeLay captured 62 percent of the vote in a four-way race. “Where I’m from, that’s called a good, old-fashioned ass whoopin’.”
LaCivita added that Republican voters ultimately would vote for the candidate who represents their values. He added that DeLay shouldn’t have too much trouble sewing up an additional 18 percent of the GOP vote, giving him an 80 percent advantage among Republicans and a strong core of support heading into November.
DeLay’s campaign did not comment for this article.