Rep. Tom DeLay says he made the decision to leave Congress after taking a poll in his Texas district which showed he had no better than a 50-50 chance of winning reelection this November.
In a long discussion with conservative journalists Tuesday afternoon, DeLay discussed the Republican primary he faced last month, which he won with 62 percent of the vote. While some observers called that an impressive win, given the controversy that surrounds DeLay, the congressman himself said that was when he knew he had a problem.
“After the primary–you get a sixth sense about this stuff,” DeLay said. “You know your district…You don’t need polls, but we ran a poll anyway. And the poll showed, basically, that I had a 50-50 chance of winning.” DeLay said he had commissioned a similar poll late last year, and “the one after the primary was slightly worse than the one in December”–suggesting that his support was shrinking.
“Sixty-two percent was kind of a lift around here,” DeLay said. “People gave me a lot of credit for 62 percent. But for a 21-year incumbent, 62 percent–I mean, it’s good, but it should have been 70-percent-plus. Sixty-two percent means 38 percent voted against me. So I wanted a poll done. We did the poll. I was going to spend whatever it took to decide what I was supposed to do, whether to get in or get out.”
DeLay said that after the primary, “I spent a lot of time in prayer. Spent all the time in prayer.” He said he talked to a number of people who are close to him, and he got the impression that he should stay in the race. “I thought right after the primary, I was supposed to go through this,” he said. “What’s that saying? Hardened by fire? But as time went on it was quite evident that I was supposed to evaluate the election and face reality, and the reality was I wasn’t supposed to go through this, that I am supposed to get involved outside the House. I can do more good outside the House in the next few months than being locked in the 22nd District trying to fight a reelection campaign.”
“I have a very strong base, an incredibly strong base,” DeLay continued. “I’ve never seen anything like it. People that would die for me. I also have a very strong opposition that would kill me if they could get hold of me.”
Such polarization, DeLay said, left very few undecideds. “What’s left are soft moderate Republicans,” DeLay explained, “and independents that will vote for anybody but Tom DeLay, that believe for whatever reason that he’s a crook, or where there’s smoke, there’s fire, so the beating that I’ve been taking has had that impact. And what I saw was it would take a ton of money to take that small group that I could appeal to and turn them around–in the face of getting beat up every day by the mainstream media and paid-for 527s.”
DeLay attributed many of his problems to Ronnie Earle, the Texas county district attorney who has indicted DeLay on campaign-finance charges. “He used this case to drag my name through the mud,” DeLay said, “and he has abused the grand jury-process to drag my name through the mud.”
The problem, DeLay explained, was the interplay of Earle’s investigation and a House GOP rule that requires members of the leadership to step down if they are indicted. “I truly believe that the only reason I was indicted is because we have that stupid rule–that is, politically, the stupidest thing we’ve ever done,” DeLay said. The rule, he continued, in essence “allows the Democrats to pick the Republican leadership.”
“But we have it,” DeLay continued. “I honored it.”
Now that he will soon be out, DeLay said, he feels confident that a Republican will win the seat from his district, which President Bush carried with 64 percent of the vote in 2004. “People say, isn’t this a defeat?” DeLay said. “No, it’s an incredible victory. Because the 22nd District is going to have a Republican fill that seat, guaranteed. That’s what my polls show. Any Republican running as a Republican will walk into that seat.”
DeLay also predicted that his departure from the race will hurt the candidacy of Democratic challenger Nick Lampson, who has benefited from support and money from Democrats all around the country who wanted to see DeLay go down in defeat. “Nick Lampson’s money is going to dry up,” DeLay said. “He’s going to have to talk about what he believes in. He’s got as bad a liberal Democrat voting record as Sheila Jackson Lee. We’ve done our opposition research, and he does not fit this district. I consider that a victory….We will have a Republican, and I will be out doing what I do best, and that is strategizing to lead the conservative cause and elect Republicans.”
When the talk turned to the Abramoff scandal, and the guilty plea of former DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy, DeLay said he had no idea that Rudy had been engaged in any criminal activity.
“The leadership office is a whirlwind of activity all day long,” DeLay said. “There are things going on constantly. Maybe my management style is suspect. But we hired and had and always have had one of the best staffs on the Hill. Why? Because I hired people that wanted to accomplish the same things that I wanted to accomplish, and I have given them responsibilities and have trusted them to carry out those responsibilities. Unfortunately that trust was mishandled, obviously, by Tony Rudy. He admitted to it. That disappoints me greatly. But it had nothing to do with me.”
DeLay said he has not seen the Rudy plea agreement. One section of that agreement says that, “In March and April 2000, Rudy obtained a letter from Representative #2 [DeLay] to an Executive Branch official opposing a postal rate increase that would have harmed one of Abramoff’s clients.” When asked about that, DeLay said he suspected that Rudy knew DeLay would be opposed to such an increase and tried to profit from that knowledge. “Frankly, what it sounds like from what I read in the media was that they were trading off of knowing that I would already be in those positions,” DeLay said. “I have always opposed postal rate increases. So you know this one’s coming up, DeLay’s going to be against it, so I’m going to make some money off of it, telling so-and-so and so-and-so that I can get DeLay to be against it. Maybe that’s what they were doing, it sounds like to me.”
As for another former aide, DeLay said he “ran off” Michael Scanlon. “Scanlon–we didn’t fire him, but we found him another job,” DeLay said. “I’m not surprised about Scanlon, but I am shocked and surprised about Tony Rudy.”
As for himself, DeLay said he asked his lawyers to do a thorough review of all of his dealings in Congress. “I spent a lot of money and four months of lawyers investigating me as if they were prosecuting me,” DeLay said. “They have looked at everything that I’ve got for 20 years, the whole time I’m here, and there ain’t nothing.”
“There is absolutely nothing illegal in my operation. There’s nothing untoward. There’s nothing unethical. We also cooperated with the Department of Justice, given them everything we’ve got.”
“They asked for it?”
“No. We just gave it to them.”
DeLay said the material he gave the Justice Department included “anything connected to Tony Rudy, Ed Buckham, Abramoff, or Scanlon.” Beyond that, DeLay said he has had no contact with prosecutors. “None,” he said. “And they have told my lawyers I’m not a target of the investigation. Of course, we have been saying that for three months and the press refuses to write about it.”
Finally, DeLay addressed the work he did on the issue of lobbying and the so-called “K Street Project.” “I am actually very proud of the K Street Project,” DeLay said. “When we came in, I realized right away in 1995 that we may have taken the majority, but we haven’t changed the culture of Washington, D.C. And I immediately started strategizing to change that culture. I mean, how in the world could you maintain a majority up here if all of K Street were Democrat lobbyists that owed their power and their checkbook to the Democrats, and their friends who were out of power?”
“We put together, I think, one of the largest and strongest political coalitions ever. We turned the culture from K Street contributing 70 percent of its campaign funds to Democrats and 30 percent to Republicans to today 60 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat….It was so well done that the Democrats hate it, and they’re working as hard as they can to destroy it.”
–Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President–and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.